Topeka’s Constitution Hall Restoration

Constitution Hall FacadeLeaders working to restore Topeka’s Constitution Hall take a major step forward by tearing down a part of the building’s facade facing Kansas Avenue. A ceremony on June 6th at 5:00 marks the beginning of the work.

“We must first take down the old and non-historic to return Constitution Hall to its former glory when it served as the Free State Capitol and our state’s first capitol building,” said Grant Glenn, president of Friends of the Free State Capitol. That organization spearheads efforts to restore the building. “This will be a major step in bringing Constitution Hall closer to its historical roots,” Glenn stated.

Constitution Hall was the first permanent building built in Topeka in 1855. It was the focal point of disputes about whether Kansas would enter the Union as a free state or one that allowed slavery. It also served as an important stop on the Underground Railroad and is recognized by the National Park Service on its Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. Five different Topeka churches also started in the building.

Construction work on the new facade that restores the front of the building to its historical roots will begin this August and is expected to be complete by spring of 2020. Private donations combined with national and local grants along with preservation and tourism monies from the city of Topeka are making the $350,000 project possible.

Topeka's UGRR

Tour Historic Merriam

Freedom’s Frontier partner, Merriam Visitors Bureau and Historic Plaza, has recently launched a new interactive history tour through an app called Otocast. Otocast guides facilitate the discovery of recommended “points of interest” in any geography and encourage exploration of the surrounding area, which in turn increases engagement and benefits local businesses and economy.

Merriam’s tour focuses on the pivotal moments in history, citing significant locations and attractions across the city from the well-known Shawnee Friends Mission area, to the former Walker School.

The historic Merriam tour features 12 locations with each offering a brief summary of the site’s history, then and now photos, an audio component and convenient mapping feature.

Karen Crane, Director of the Merriam Visitors Bureau says “app users can physically be anywhere in the world and learn about Merriam’s heritage as if they were right here in the Midwest. Or, they can come to Merriam and visit each location using the map to guide them from site to site. It’s a great program and we’re really excited to connect users to our fascinating history using this technology.”

Learn more about how to use the app at

Meet a Partner: Kerry Altenbernd


Kerry Altenbernd, often better known as “Old John Brown,” has been involved in the Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area effort since 2003.
Kerry was an essential partner in securing the land on which the Battle of Black Jack was fought as a historic site. He has worked as a member and president of the board of The Black Jack Battlefield Trust to develop the historic site and secure its designation as a National Historic Landmark.
Kerry has appeared at many Freedom’s Frontier partner sites and on KCPT’s Meet the Past as John Brown. Kerry manages his John Brown appearances through John Brown Speaks.
Recently, Kerry has led efforts to recognize the history of Grover Barn in Lawrence, Kansas, forming the group Guardians of Grover Barn.
In 2015, Kerry was recognized as the Freedom’s Frontier Most Valuable Partner.
Kerry’s responses to some questions from Freedom’s Frontier staff follows.

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FF: Tell me about the work you do related to Freedom’s Frontier. 
KA: My primary reason [to get involved with Freedom’s Frontier] was to represent the Black Jack Battlefield Trust and to protect the interests of the Black Jack Battlefield and Nature Park, but over the years, that has expanded into helping the FFNHA itself grow and prosper. This manifests in attending partner meetings, making myself and John Brown available for special FFNHA events, bringing FFNHA maps with me to every event and presentation I participate in, informing people of the activities and benefits that the FFNHA bring to partner sites and the region, and whatever else I am able to do.
FF: What motivates you in that role? 
KA: I’m a native of Kansas, third generation son of Douglas County, so the history of the area is personal as well as intellectual for me. I have always been interested in history, and that interest has grown significantly over the years of the FFNHA. There is also an intangible thing that I cannot describe that motivates me to learn more, and to share what I find with others.
20150208_141622FF: What is your favorite era or topic of history to explore?
KA: Kansas history from 1854 through the Civil War is fascinating. There are so many untold stories that relate to that period.
FF: What do you like to do outside of your history-related work?
KA: I like to read and watch classic movies. I used to bicycle a lot, but over the years I have let that lag. I want to get back into doing it again, though. Travel is also enjoyable.
FF: What makes you proud to live in Freedom’s Frontier? 
KA: I am proud of the commitment of the good people who are working together to bring our shared heritage out of the shadows and preserve it for future generations of Americans to learn and wonder at. Folks on both sides of the state line have done amazing things to learn each other’s history facing many inconvenient and disturbing facts, and thereby lessen the animosity between the people of Kansas and Missouri, at least in those parts within the FFNHA.

FF: What is a benefit of your participation in Freedom’s Frontier

KA: Participation has allowed me to grow, both in my knowledge of our history and in my ability to understand and discover that history. But the biggest benefit by for is meeting, making friends, and collaborating with people from all over the 41 counties of the FFNHA, folks I would never have had the chance to meet without the FFNHA.


Visit from the NPS

Chris 1

Chris Stein (center, green vest) joins FFNHA Executive Director Jim Ogle (center, white shirt) with the Lecompton Players and students from both Kansas and Missouri schools at the Territorial Capital Museum. 

When Chris Stein, the Midwest Regional Coordinator for National Heritage Areas and Partnerships, asked Jim Ogle to plan out an itinerary of FFNHA sites that represent the “enduring struggle for freedom,” he told Ogle he could schedule as many visits as he wanted. In the end, in just two days, Ogle lead Stein to 12 different FFNHA partners sites.


“No one can take in the breadth and depth of all our partner sites in such a short time. I could only give Chris a small taste of an assortment of freedom sites we have to offer,” said Ogle.

Chris 2Stein visited Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site. While there he presented those attending the May Partner Meeting with tips on joining FFNHA in signing the Pollinator Partnership Pledge.

Stein also visited the Black Archives of Mid-America located in the historic 18th & Vine District of Kansas City. Executive Director Dr. Carmaletta Williams and Archivist Deborah Barker (also a member of the FFNHA Board of Trustees) shared with Stein the history of Kansas City and the entire Midwest that the Black Archives both commemorates and makes available to the general public.

Along with the Black Archives, Stein visited the Territorial Capital Museum in Lecompton, 1855 Harris-Kearney House in Kansas City, the Sumner School and Constitution Hall in Topeka, the Old Quindaro Museum, the Historic Allen Chapel AME Church, the Quindaro Underground Railroad Museum, and the Quindaro Overlook in Kansas City, Kansas.

Freedom’s Frontier success gains attention

Dickinson CountyOn May 9, Dickinson County Commissioners voted to request inclusion in the boundaries of Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area. Dickinson County is the third county to take this action, joining Morris and Doniphan counties in this request.

Because the boundaries of Freedom’s Frontier were established by Congress in 2006, a change in the boundaries would necessitate federal action. The resolution passed by Dickinson County is the first step in the process to becoming part of Freedom’s Frontier.

Additional efforts are underway in Lyon County, Kansas, and Henry and Jasper counties in Missouri to request inclusion in Freedom’s Frontier boundaries.

We are thrilled that our work has attracted the attention of counties just outside of our borders and stand ready to move forward in the process of increasing the size of Freedom’s Frontier with our new partners.

Congressman Marshall joins H.R. 1049 as co-sponsor

MarshallCongressman Roger Marshall (KS-1) reaffirmed his commitment in May to Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area and the entire heritage area program by becoming a co-sponsor for H.R. 1049 — The National Heritage Area Act of 2019. (click on the link to read the legislation.)

Passage of H.R. 1049 would mean that individual heritage areas will not need individual legislation for reauthorization. Right now, FFNHA will need individual legislation for reauthorization by October 2021 if H.R. 1049 does not become law. The bill also creates improved processes for assessing the effectiveness of heritage areas and in adding heritage areas throughout the country.

This is the second time that Congressman Marshall has supported legislation of this type. He joins Congressman Steve Watkins (KS-2) and Congressman Emanuel Cleaver II (MO-5) as co-sponsors of the legislation.

More members of Congress are co-sponsoring HR 1049 than any previous legislation about national heritage areas. A total of 105 legislators are co-sponsors of the bill.

If you are represented by Dr. Marshall in Congress, there is an easy way for you to thank him for his support. Click this link to go to his website and send him a note.

Tacha Freedom Award winner advances to National Contest for National History Day


The 2019 Tacha Freedom Award Winner will compete in the National Contest for National History Day, June 9-13 at the University of Maryland in College Park. Riley Sutherland placed first in the Senior Individual Performance at the Missouri State Contest for National History Day in Columbia on April 27, 2019. In addition to her first place, she won the American Association of University Women Women’s History Prize.

Riley’s project, entitled “Divided by Politics, United by Purpose: Anna Marie Lane and Elizabeth Murray,” traces the involvement of the two women’s involvement in the Revolutionary War. Riley talked with us about her passion for history and her National History Day project.

Riley received the Tacha Freedom Award at the Freedom’s Frontier Awards Luncheon on January 30, 2019, thanks to her efforts at the Clay County Historical Museum. During her years as a volunteer at the museum, Riley has created themed “History Boxes” for educators to use in their classrooms, created two permanent exhibits and coordinated other museum events.

Riley said of her Tacha Freedom Award, “The Freedom’s Frontier’s work in promoting local, public history is reassurance that historical study remains alive and critical to education, and will continue to be shared with our communities.”

FF: What is your favorite thing about learning history?

RS: I have always hated problems with a single answer, because of the empty feeling that comes when an answer is finally found. What happens after you have an answer? The wonderful thing about history is that no matter how many hours or years research extends, there is never a single answer. Rather, any minute topic can be examined from social, economic, political, and religious lenses. After synthesizing these, multiple perspectives within each topic can be compared, as can relationships between time periods. Every answer I receive in history is accompanied by at least five more questions, which is exhilarating as a researcher.

I also love history because it is always changing. Though it is true, history is a collection of facts, interpretation of these facts and their results upon our world is always changing with historiographical trends and new research. Consequently, anyone determined to share a story is able to contribute to the historical narrative we collectively share. In this sense, I’ve always seen history as a place in which a single individual can inspire learning within a much broader community. This is especially true in public history, which I first learned when creating an exhibit on Alexander Doniphan’s opposition to local Mormon persecution. After speaking about Mormon persecution, local individuals of the faith thanked me. I didn’t understand, and asked ‘why’? They explained sharing the stories of their ancestors has kept them alive.

As public historians create exhibits, transcribe and digitize documents, and create outreach programs, their service is not only sharing knowledge. In sharing learning, we also preserve the stories of those no longer living to do so themselves, fostering civic pride. Whether from similar religious, regional, or racial backgrounds, preserving historical identities allows enduring lessons to transcend generational boundaries.

FF: Who were Anna Maria Lane and Elizabeth Murray and why did you choose them for your Missouri History Day project?

RS: I first discovered Anna Maria Lane while reading about women in the Revolutionary War. The names of other women in the Revolution were accompanied by text, Lane’s was bare. After inquiring to historians and archivists, I was told the lack of knowledge surrounding Lane’s life is because she was illiterate. What was known is that Lane served as a soldier in the Revolutionary War, and was shot in the leg in 1777. Approximately thirty years later, she received an injured pension more than twice male pensions, and was the first woman in Virginia to receive an injured pension. After reading this information, I felt responsible for telling her story, since the only reason Lane could not herself is because she lacked opportunities to read and write.

I’ve had the opportunity to research alongside my teachers, with help from the James Monroe Papers, Colonial Williamsburg, St. John’s Church, Shockoe Church, and Valley Forge. We learned that Anna Maria Lane and her husband, John Lane, were incredibly poor New Hampshire citizens when the Revolutionary War began. John enlisted to fight for New Hampshire in 1776. Anna Maria could not financially support herself in the absence of John. Instead, she accompanied him as a camp follower, or female follower of Washington’s army responsible for acting as a laundress and nurse. The Lanes were present at the iconic Battle of Trenton, as well as the Battle of Princeton. Yet, Washington struggled to supply both his soldiers and the camp followers, who often survived on soldier’s rations in exchange for their services. The followers also had a poor reputation, as some were prostitutes; Washington wrote they slowed his army on marches, calling them a “clog” to his progress. In 1777, Washington ordered his officers to begin restricting the numbers of female camp followers. Within a month, Anna Maria Lane ran into battle alongside her husband at the Battle of Germantown, where she was shot and severely wounded. Though I am working on filling her whereabouts for the years from 1777-1790, my research has led me to believe she continued to follow John following the battle, to Virginia, where John reenlisted after being captured as a prisoner and exchanged. John served the state guard in Richmond, where older men and prior soldiers were employed in tasks, such as repairing arms. Anna Maria served the guard as a nurse, for Dr. John H. Foushee and James Greenhow.

NHD3[T]he Revolution had given Lane a definite voice and public involvement. She exercised this by refusing to continue nursing unless she was paid for her services. Both doctors wrote to James Monroe, asking for her to be paid. Monroe himself consented. After the injury caused Lane to go lame, Governor William Cabbell recommended she receive a pension for her “extraordinary military services”, “in the garb, and with the courage, of a soldier”.

I wanted to juxtapose Lane’s valiance with that of a Loyalist woman; Elizabeth Murray’s strong willed, independent nature seemed akin to that demonstrated by Lane. Murray was born in Scotland, and came to the colonies after being orphaned to join her brother, James, a trader in North Carolina. Elizabeth, while travelling through Boston, noticed that women were able to own businesses in the city. She decided to profit by doing the same, and established a millinery (or seller of female dress items, such as fabric and lace) with the help of her brother. After marrying, under colonial marriage laws (known as coverture), Murray could not own her own business. When her husband shortly died, she regained control of the millinery—with a new knowledge of maintaining property. She made prenuptial agreements with her next two husbands, requiring they allow her complete control of her property and business, even as a married women. The death of her first and second husbands left Murray with considerable wealth, which she used to support women in creating their own businesses. She helped local immigrants (including a friend, Janette Day, who arrived in the colonies after having a child out of wedlock) and orphans establish businesses. Murray also determinedly educated her niece in bookkeeping as a necessary skill for women.

Before Lexington and Concord, Murray joined her third husband, Ralph Inman, to manage his estate in Cambridge. But Ralph fled to Boston post-Lexington and Concord, seeking the protection of British troops as a Loyalist. Murray refused to join him, and, instead, defended the land as a sort of “female general,” as she described herself. Murray’s land was confiscated, and she was briefly held under house arrest. After escaping, Murray helped her first husband’s relative, Lieutenant Archibald Campbell, who fought for the British. Murray sold him food and literature, but was publically labeled a prostitute and spy for helping the prisoner. Murray made plans to return to Britain in the later years of her life, but took ill and died in the colonies. Archibald Campbell was released and went on to capture Savannah shortly afterwards.

I recently learned John Lane, husband of Anna Maria, was attempting to recapture the city when he was taken as a prisoner of war. In this sense, the tragedies endured by both Anna Maria Lane and Elizabeth Murray were connected by a common figure. Although they completely opposed each other ideologically, women like Lane and Murray endured strikingly parallel struggles in the Revolution, from similar encounters with opposing soldiers and economic challenges supplying the home amid taxation and boycotts, to enduring parallel scrutiny by the press for taking on new, public roles. After the Revolution, founders such as Benjamin Rush started identifying the need for women to be educated, which initiated changes in women’s social roles and educational opportunities. Really, women were only able to act in expanded roles to reap these opportunities because they were opposing each other’s voices. In this sense, their opposition to each other is what facilitated expanded female roles. This is incredibly interesting to me

FF: How did you research these two people for your project?

RS: I started research by travelling to the Battle of Germantown site, where Lane was injured, to learn about the battle. My teachers and I have spent hours poring over pension records, as well as male accounts of the Battle of Germantown to understand how she was involved. I’ve also gotten to learn about Lane through the letters of doctors she served, with the help of the James Monroe Papers project members. I’ve also gotten to travel to Yorktown and the National Museum of the American Revolution, to learn about the roles camp followers played in war. Although the Lanes were illiterate, pension records and accounts of men she fought alongside can be synthesized with what we already know about camp followers to help us piece her life together. I am currently working on trying to locate Anna Maria Lane’s gravesite, which was unmarked and is currently unknown of.

Elizabeth Murray is different, because historians—particularly Patricia Cleary—have already studied her life, and she left an extensive paper trail. California State University at Long Beach has digitized several of her letters and legal agreements, as well as newspaper articles from her life. I’ve paired this information with accounts of other Loyalist women in Boston during the Revolution to understand the overall female experience for New England Loyalists. They faced abuse by Patriot soldiers and the confiscation of their property, yet many overlook the struggles faced by those loyal to the crown.

FF: What do you like about the performance category?

RS: Reading through the letters and diaries of historical figures, from former presidents to lower class women of the American Revolution, has helped humanize larger-than-life and seemingly distant characters to me in a way. To understand these figures’ inner thoughts and emotions has brought me close to the past; to me, performing is an opportunity to present this history to other people in a way they may not have seen it—not as a list of dates, but as a series of reactions endured by real people.

Picture1FF: Have you been to National History Day before? What are you looking forward to?

RS: This is my sixth year competing in National History Day, and will be my third competing at the national level in Washington DC in June. To me, NHD is less of a competition than an opportunity to share the lives of meaningful figures. My goal is to share the lives of overlooked figures, such as illiterate Anna Maria Lane, with as many people as possible, to display lesser known historical contributions. I am excited to get to share her life with students from all over the world in June, as well as to learn about other student’s research. Every student at the competition has poured their heart into a specific topic and is eager to share. It is nearly impossible to so much as get on an elevator during NHD without ending up next to a bright-eyed student just as excited about history as I am, which makes NHD my favorite event of the year.

FF: Why did you decide to get involved at the Clay County Museum?

RS: I began to realize that I wanted to pursue a career in history when I was twelve, and hoped for a way to understand opportunities in this field. At the same time, I am a Girl Scout, and was preparing to work towards my Gold and Silver Awards through community projects. The Clay County Museum offered the perfect combination of academic research and community connections, so I reached out to begin involvement. I started by creating “history boxes” for the museum, containing materials about the Civil War on the Missouri/Kansas Border, Missouri Compromise, and local Native Americans for use by youth groups and fourth graders. Since this project, I have had the privilege of creating two museum exhibits, transcribing letters, acting as a docent, and coordinating public outreach events. After five years with the museum, every day has been like Christmas, as we open inventory boxes and discover artifacts buried in our basement for years, before sharing them with the public.

FF: What did it mean to you to receive the Tacha Freedom Award from Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area?

RS: The Tacha Freedom Frontier Award was incredibly meaningful to me, as a symbol of the importance of sharing historical narratives. I am so lucky to have the privilege of working alongside supportive museum members and teachers through both exhibit curation and research while pursuing this path. I have had so many people tell me that pursuing history is a mistake, because it is not applicable. They could not be more wrong. Yet, after having people remind me “it’s never too late to change your college major,” or “you will never survive on a historian’s salary,” it can be easy to wonder whether people appreciate history. The Freedom’s Frontier’s work in promoting local, public history is reassurance that historical study remains alive and critical to education, and will continue to be shared with our communities.IMG_8835


News Roundup: Quindaro Townsite National Commemorative Site designation dedication


Check out the news coverage of the Quindaro Townsite National Commemorative Site designation dedication.

A Decade of Service

FFMeet-3752by Julie McPike

After working with and for Freedom’s Frontier for almost eleven years, this organization has had an enormous impact on my life. I’ve poured sweat and tears (both literally) into this organization because its success has been important to me; just as all of your successes have been important to me. Freedom’s Frontier succeeds when its partners succeed. This organization and everyone involved in it have taught me so much. I hope I have been able to return a small portion of what I’ve learned, by sharing my knowledge with you.

In the third grade, I was constantly getting in trouble for turning around and talking to my friend Tara, who sat behind me. What the teacher didn’t know was that I was turning around because Tara tapped me on the shoulder to ask for help with long division. This was my first inkling that teaching was my calling. I’ve been able to put my passion for education to good use in the heritage area, through youth camps, partner meetings and one-on-one work with organizations. At the same time, I also learned a lot about the history of our area. While you are the experts about your piece of the shared stories of Freedom’s Frontier, I know just enough about everyone’s story to be a good pick for your trivia team.

One story that has impacted me is the story that is explored by KC Race Project. I love talking about the work that those involved in Race Project are doing to educate high school students about Kansas City’s racial divide and its impact on the city’s schools and to foster connections and discussions across that divide. The reason I resonate with this piece of our story is because it lines up with my passion for education. It also called me to take action.

The calling to return to the classroom has been building over the years. That, combined with the history I’ve learned through Freedom’s Frontier, resulted in my application to Kansas City Teacher Residency (KCTR). I’m so proud to have been selected for the fourth year of KCTR. This program trains college graduates to teach in high-needs schools in Kansas City, Missouri. My last day at Freedom’s Frontier will be May 31 and I will start the KCTR program on June 10.

While I am excited to begin the next chapter, I am sad to leave the strong partnership that exists within Freedom’s Frontier. I’ve been very lucky to consider so many of you my colleagues, mentors and friends.

In the end, Freedom’s Frontier changed my life in big ways, not just once, when I was hired as a consultant to work on the management plan, or twice when I became the first paid staff person for the heritage area, but three times. The work we do with partners and the history of Freedom’s Frontier has inspired me (as is posited by the History Relevance campaign) to take action, to envision a better future and participate in viable community solutions. How has Freedom’s Frontier impacted you?

Explore Kansas Festival

The Explore Kansas Festival – a showcase of Kansas culture, history, events and attractions, will take place the first weekend of the Kansas state fair, Sept. 7-8, 2019.

The Explore Kansas Festival is a way to educate our fairgoers about everything our state has to offer. The two-day showcase brings together Kansas communities and attractions, creating a place for the public to discover our unique treasures.

The Kansas State Fair as an important mouthpiece for Kansas Tourism. The Explore Kansas Festival can help visitors find unique cafes, fishing holes, hiking trails, next summer’s vacation spot, historic sites, natural landmarks, museums, performing centers, arts and culture and events — or even a new place to call home.

The Explore Kansas Festival will take place Sept. 7-8 in Gottschalk Park on the fairgrounds.

State Fair