So, you want to find out more about your house in Topeka. This blog will tell you about some of the resources and search methods which might help you find out about your house and about the people who have lived there through the years.
Throughout the history of Topeka from as early as 1870 until the present, the City Directory has been a great resource for finding out about businesses and people in the city. Samuel Radges began publishing city directories for Topeka by 1870. During the early nineteen-teens the Polk Company bought out the publishing of the Topeka City Directory but maintained it under Radge’s name until after his death. From 1926 to today, their directory has been known as Polk’s City Directory. The 1926 edition states its purpose as: “Embracing a Complete Alphabetical List of Business Firms and Private Citizens; A Miscellaneous Directory of City and County Officials, Church, Public and Private Schools, Banks, Asylums, Hospitals and Homes, Commercial Bodies, Secret Societies, Street and Avenue Guide, Etc., a Buyer’s Guide and a Complete Classified Business Directory and Numerical Street Directory.” The City Directory seeks to be an objective and accurate account of residents and businesses in a community at a given time. The general order of information contained in a Topeka city directory (from the Polk’s 1926) is: introduction, general index, index to advertisers, miscellaneous information (government, safety, clubs, societies and the like), classified buyers guide, list of abbreviations, alphabetical list of names, street and avenue guide and householders directory, classified business directory, and a list of Shawnee County tax payers (residing outside of Topeka). There are lots of advertisements as city directories were information and marketing tools for businesses.
Another company published a Topeka City Directory in 1924 with a supplement in 1925, this was the Hall Company. In addition to the types of information in the Radge’s and Polk Directories, the Hall’s directory contained additional information about when the resident came to Topeka and when they moved to their 1924 location. The directory also contains information about the type of house and how many rooms it has among other details. This information is not complete for all buildings but is great if it happens to be there for your house.
When searching for a particular address, looking year by year is helpful in order to discover who lived in the house, and when the house was either built or annexed into the Topeka City boundaries. The searcher needs to be aware of the fact that street names sometimes change and houses get renumbered. If the address is outside of the geographic boundaries of Topeka, the directories are not particularly helpful and early on, you have to remember that places like Gage Park were “way out in the country” so being aware of the growth of the boundaries is helpful. Happy searching!
Come visit the Topeka Room on the second floor of the Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library to delve into the history of your house!
(photo credits: C. Rouse, Topeka Room, Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library, 2010)