Detail from 1873 map showing location of Ritchie Cemetery in Topeka, Kansas

The History

Do you have historical photos of the cemetery? Do you have relatives at Ritchie? Have you seen references to the cemetery in family histories or original manuscript material from early Shawnee County history? If any answer is yes, please get in touch!

We uncovered no evidence that Ritchie Cemetery was ever managed in any formal way. Its founders called it "South Topeka Cemetery," but their intent for how it was to be administered is unclear.

No organizational charter was filed with the State. Nor was a cemetery plat filed with the Register of Deeds. Nor were burial records created, at least none that survived.

During our research of the cemetery, three major areas of investigation emerged: 1) founding of the cemetery 

and the role of early free-state settlers; 2) arrival of the Exodusters and the subsequent use of the cemetery by Black Topekans during its most active period of known use; and, 3) the modern era, especially when urban development reached the vicinity of the cemetery and issues surfaced about ownership of the cemetery and its boundaries. (See Some Key Dates below.)

Questions remain in all three areas. There also are big gapslong stretches of time where virtually nothing is known, at least not yet.

Recent Posts About the History of the Cemetery

Some Key Dates

1859

First known burial at the site

1862

Sale of 5-acre tract to three trustees of South Topeka Cemetery (the original name)

1879

Peak period for arrival in Topeka of the Blacks who came to Kansas from southern states as part of the Exoduster migration

1883

Sale transaction from 1862 is recorded with the Shawnee County Register of Deeds

1886

First known African American burial at Ritchie

Earliest known use of the name "Ritchie Cemetery"

1886 (cont)

1909

Mt. Auburn Cemetery opened to serve Topeka's Black community

1933

"Plat of Survey in NW 1/4 Section 12-12-15" prepared by Shawnee County Surveyor 

1941

Last known burial at Ritchie

1952

Cemetery included in 15.8 sq. mi. area annexed into City of Topeka

1957

  • Ownership, boundaries at issue following a developer's excavation of dirt from the site 

  • Park Commissioner proposed pioneer monument

  • Plat of Survey showed boundaries of cemetery "as it is used and occupied"

1962

City declared cemetery abandoned, assumed control over it, put it under supervision of Park Commissioner

1965

Plat of Survey drawn regarding boundary with the Lee property on the west

2012

Cemetery maintenance assigned to  City Forester following merger of city and county park operations