- Associated Press - Friday, March 31, 2017

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Two historic sites in Topeka will be featured on The Kansas African-American History Trail, scheduled to launch in September.

Brown v. Board of Education and the newly added Ritchie House will be part of the trail, which highlights African-American heritage in Kansas.

Shawnee County Historical Society board president George Bernheimer said he was happy to find out about the Ritchie House’s inclusion.

“It’s a significant site,” Bernheimer said.

The Topeka Capital-Journal (https://bit.ly/2nsCFtZ ) reports that abolitionists John and Mary Jane Ritchie arrived in Kansas in early 1855 from Indiana. They lived in a one-room cabin while they built their home at 1116 S.E. Madison.

In late 1856, they moved into the residence, which became a stop on the Underground Railroad, Bernheimer said.

Most of the slaves were from Missouri and were brought to the Ritchies’ by someone else. They would stay up to a couple weeks. John Ritchie would then take them to the next safe place, often into Nebraska.

The Ritchies were involved with the Underground Railroad until the beginning of the Civil War when it largely ceased.

Both John and Mary Jane Ritchie also advocated for women’s rights. John Ritchie attended the latter two of Kansas’ four constitutional conventions where he supported women’s right to vote. The Wyandotte Convention, which was adopted and signed, granted women limited powers, such as the right to vote in school board elections, Bernheimer said.

The Ritchie House was donated by a law firm to the Shawnee County Historical Society in the mid-1990s. The interior was contemporary in style.

Bernheimer said renovation work was stripped away revealing the house’s original characteristics. A “limited interpretation” of the living space was created. The historical society is currently in the early stages of carrying out further interpretations.

The exterior of the house has been restored so it appears much like it did in 1856, Bernheimer said.

In December 2015, the house was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

In 2016, the Ritchie House had about 4,000 visitors and Bernheimer hopes inclusion on the trail will attract more people to visit the site.

“Kansas has a rich African-American heritage, but there is a lack of public awareness about important events that shaped and defined the history and culture,” said Jo Bogan with the Kansas African-American Museum and project manager for the trail.

The museum received a grant in fiscal year 2016 for the trail’s creation.

The trail’s development will help facilitate institutional cooperation, new initiatives and programming and reach new audiences, Bogan said.

Other trail stops include:

Fort Riley: Calvary Museum and Buffalo Soldier site

Osawatomie: Town where John Brown carried out abolitionist activities

Nicodemus Township: Graham County town established by blacks after the Civil War

Baxter Springs: Baxter Springs Heritage Center and Buffalo Soldier site

Fort Scott: Hometown of photographer Gordon Parks and Buffalo Soldier site

Wichita: Calvary Baptist Church and The African-American Museum

Fort Leavenworth: Richard Allen Museum and Buffalo Soldier site

Lawrence: Grover Barn, Clinton Lake, Langston Hughes Walking Trail, Spencer Library and Bailey Hall

Minneapolis: homestead site of George Washington Carver

Kansas City: Negro Baseball League Museum

The trail will officially launch in September in Wichita. Additional events at other sites will be held in 2018.

Bogan said the museum hopes to increase membership and attendance by 30 percent at all the sites.

In the long-term, she would like to create an association for the partner sites where workshops, conferences and continuing education classes could be held. Trail organizers also hope to attract collaborations with border states, Bogan said.


Information from: The Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal, https://www.cjonline.com

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