Art exhibits railway history

Tanner Ballengee / Washburn Review

The Great Overland Station of Topeka is showing off a grand collection of Kansas’ railroad history. The Station will be showing the exhibit “The People’s Kind of Railroad: The Santa Fe, the City, the State, and the Nation,” in the Fink Exhibit Gallery through Jan. 28.

The Great Overland Station, located in the North Topeka Arts District, is a preserved historical landmark of Kansas history, as well as a museum and education center. It hosts many exhibits, programs and activities such as senior proms for local high schools. The station first opened in January of 1927 and reopened in 2004 as The Great Overland Station Museum, with over 125 trains still passing through every day.

On the upper level of the station is where you will find the Fink Exhibit Gallery. This exhibit shows the history of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, which is now the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway, throughout its 152-year history.

The exhibit, which takes up the entirety of the space allotted, is a room full of rich Kansas history. The exhibit was made possible by a grant provided by the Kansas Humanities Council.

“This is an exhibit I’ve wanted to do since before the station even opened,” said Beth Fager, campaign director and exhibit coordinator for the Great Overland Station. “It’s important to the livelihood of Topeka.”

Fager also said that Topeka was once a railroad town, with a lot of Santa Fe History. The railroads were important to Topeka because many of its citizens have ancestors and family members that once worked for the railways, claiming about 25 percent of the top workforce at one point. Fager stated that much of the Hispanic community in Topeka was brought here by jobs offered on the railroad.

The room is full of articles and artifacts such as ancient posters and paintings, old railroad ties, a preserved conductor’s uniform, antique train station chairs and more. Among the memorabilia, there is a poster of William Allen White, legendary editor of the Emporia Gazette, stating that the Santa Fe railroad is “One of the best things that ever happened to this land…”

“It’s really great,” said Todd Belway, 46-year-old construction worker who visited the exhibit with his wife, Vivian. “It really puts Kansas’s history and agriculture into perspective.”

Another vital part to the exhibit is the collection of paintings mounted along the tops of all four walls in the room.

The collection, called the “Santa Fe Calendar Exhibit,” consists of 84 original calendar paintings ranging from the year 1907 to 1993. These paintings, which are on loan from collector Harry Brisco, were commissioned by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway and sold throughout the country, displaying scenes from the Native American culture. The calendar paintings were used to attempt to attract more passengers and tourists by displaying the beauty of the countryside and Native American customs.

Fager stated that once this exhibit comes down, there are plans to have it on display permanently for the general public in one of the baggage cars, but such a project will not happen for a while. Once enough money is raised, the “People’s Kind of Railroad: The Santa Fe, the City, the State, and the Nation,” will be open for everyone to see Topeka’s rich railroad history at all times.

“The railroads really enriched the fabric, culture and economy of our community,” said Fager.