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The Bottoms, located in Topeka along the Kansas River, was once a tight-knit community of immigrants, African Americans, and Latinx residents, with businesses that welcomed African American customers during segregation. Urban renewal projects led to the demolition of the Bottoms in the 1950s, but former residents still fondly recall the community’s diversity and strong bonds.

The 224 to 234 block of Kansas Avenue, taken between 1875 and 1885.

Building, Window, Rectangle, Tints and shades

Flooding along the Kansas River in Topeka, which forced the Bottoms to be temporarily evacuated.

Water, Building, Sky, House

Former residents of the Bottoms in Topeka, an area that lay along the Kansas River, recall it fondly as a place where community ties were strong, immigrants from all walks of life lived alongside one another, and many businesses welcomed African American customers. At the same time, the Bottoms was characterized as rundown and blighted, and the area was devastated by the Kansas River flood of 1951, which forced a temporary evacuation. 

 At the same time, urban renewal projects were sweeping through U.S. cities, targeting so-called slums to clear and sell to private developers. These areas were often populated by Black and immigrant residents, who were displaced during and after the redevelopment process, replaced largely by more affluent white residents. 

 In Topeka, the Urban Renewal Agency led the redevelopment effort, despite opposition from the residents of the Bottoms, whose efforts included filing a court action seeking to halt redevelopment. Ultimately, however, the city purchased the properties in the Bottoms, moved more than 3,000 residents out, and commenced work on the project, demolishing the existing buildings to make way for real estate development, including a manufacturing plant, a department store, and a new stretch of I-70.

 Despite the redevelopment project, the area formerly known as the Bottoms is once again an economically depressed area. However, the Bottoms’ former residents have fond memories of their community. They still hold reunions to gather together, tell stories, and share old pictures. 

Hrenchir, Tim. Former residents and business owners of Topeka's 'The Bottoms' area planning reunion, Topeka Capital Journal. May 22nd, 2022.

Hrenchir, Tim. Former residents and business owners of Topeka's 'The Bottoms' area planning reunion, Topeka Capital Journal. February 27th, 2021. Accessed February 13th, 2023.

Image Sources(Click to expand), Kansas Historical Society, Kansas Historical Society