Weeks before the Jack Kilby Plaza in Great Bend became a construction site, a Topeka couple was on a summer quest to visit every courthouse in each of the state’s 105 counties. Barton County’s courthouse ranked as an overall favorite with travelers Randy and Gayla Starkey.
It took the Starkeys 13 days to stop at every Kansas courthouse, Randy Starkey told the Great Bend Tribune.
"We started visiting state capitols," he said. That goal is a work in progress that began a few years ago. Their summer adventure began as they were heading home from a Fourth of July trip to Colorado. They went through 14 counties on the way home, and decided to visit every courthouse.
A scrapbook has photos of each building and information about the counties. The Starkeys shared their story with Topeka Capital-Journal reporter Jan Biles.
They told Biles their favorite "oldest" courthouse is the 1906 brick structure in Troy, county seat of Doniphan County. It has a 27-foot-high-statue of an American Indian, carved by Peter Toth from a burr oak. Their favorite "modern" courthouse is in Lyon County at Emporia. It has a curved glass entryway and large, arched glass windows.
But their favorite "all-around" courthouse was the one in Great Bend.
Reading their entry on the courthouse here, Randy Starkey recalled some of the features that made it a favorite: It is built on the town square, has gates on each corner of its grounds, a flower garden, statues, a time capsule, Santa Fe Trail marker, memorial to fallen soldiers, a band shell and a water fountain. "It has it all — beauty on all sides," Gayla wrote in the scrapbook. She even noticed the sign about winter ice skating, and concluded the courthouse square is a place that’s important to the community and its people.
The last courthouse they visited was their own, in Shawnee County.
They told Biles several courthouses have a similar look because they were designed by the same architect, George P. Washburn. The Ohio native who moved to Kansas in 1879 designed 13 of the state’s courthouses.
The retired Topekans — Randy worked at Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway for 30 years, and Gayla worked for the Kansas Health Policy Authority — still have some state capitols to visit and plan to resume their travels soon.
If they come through Great Bend in the near future, they’ll find the grounds of Barton County’s courthouse square in a state of upheaval. But eventually there will be one more memorial at the Starkeys’ favorite courthouse, where the Jack Kilby Memorial plaza in under construction.