Cedar Crest is the official residence for Kansas governors. It is the second home in Topeka to hold this distinction. From 1901 to 1962 the Erasmus Bennett house at 8th and Buchanan served as the governor's residence.
Over the years the house was not well maintained. In 1960 the south portico collapsed in a heavy snowstorm. The failing condition of the Bennett house coincided with the generous gift by Madge MacLennan of Cedar Crest.
Frank Pitts and Madge (Overstreet) MacLennan purchased the 244 acres on the west side of Topeka and built the French-Norman style house in 1928 that would become Cedar Crest. The name derives from the house sitting on a hill overlooking the Kansas River valley which was filled with cedar trees. The home, designed by Kansas City architectural firm of Wight & Wight. The house was built at the cost of $60,000.
MacLennan paid homage to his Scottish heritage by carving the Scottish thistle above the front door and in the library’s fireplace mantle below his family’s coat of arms. His love of printing is displayed in the six printers’ marks, dated 1457 to 1555, and carved into the library paneling interchanged with colorful book plates of his favorite authors. The printers’ marks represent six of the earliest printers in Europe.
The MacLennan’s decided that upon their deaths the house would be offered to the state of Kansas for use as the governor’s residence. According to the will, if the state of Kansas turned it down the house would be offered to the city of Topeka for use as a library or museum. Failing that plan, the house and land would be sold and the profits evenly divided between Washburn University and the Jane C. Stormont Hospital and Training School for Nurses, Inc., of Topeka.
When Madge MacLennan died in 1955 the poor condition of the Bennett mansion was a concern for legislators. Some believed a new residence was in order. Not without debate, the legislature accepted Mrs. MacLennan’s gift of Cedar Crest and the 244 acres in 1957. The land was named MacLennan Park. Included in the gift were 1,500 books that remain in the home’s library. In 1962 Republican Governor John Anderson and his family were the last to reside in the Bennett mansion and the first to reside in Cedar Crest. The home underwent an extensive $4.3 million remodeling project that was completed in 2000.
Cedar Crest’s history could have taken a very different turn in 1936. When Alfred Landon's family decided to continue making Topeka its home after Landon's term as governor expired, Theo Landon started looking for a suitable residence. She approached Madge MacLennan about purchasing her home. MacLennan responded that she couldn't think of anyone she would rather sell to but that she couldn't accept the Landon's offer and that someday they would understand why. Theo Landon guessed the reason why MacLennan refused her offer, but she was never given a personal explanation.
Cedar Crest was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. It is the smallest governor’s residence in the country, around 6,000 square feet, but resides on the largest plot of land. The home is open for tours 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Mondays.
Entry: Cedar Crest
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: June 2003
Date Modified: January 2016
The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.