Where Were You in 1962? The TRUE Story of Brewster Place

The following historical account has been taken from the program of the 30 Year Anniversary Celebration of the Dedication of Brewster Place. This account was written in 1994 by Reva Johnson Kuehn; a few personal details about specific residents have been omitted. The photos are original, taken at the ground breaking on December 2, 1962. If you click on them, they will open up into a larger image. We hope you enjoy them!


In the beginning...

The story must be summarized from its beginning. Roy and Frances Engler lived on a farm southwest of 29Th and Wanamaker and they frequently lamented the lack of sufficient suitable senior retirement facilities, “Why don’t we offer our church ten acres of our farm for a building site…. Maybe we could start something.”

The need is affirmed.

They approached their pastor, the Rev. Ned Burr McKenney of Central Congregational Church. He was receptive to the idea and solicited interest of the leaders of the other Congregational Churches in Topeka in establishing and operating a church-sponsored Home. That started the ball rolling and Article of Incorporation were filed with the Secretary of State on May 21, 1958. The proposed project was to be named THE CONGREGATIONAL HOME FOR THE AGED – a name that soon changed to THE CONGRAGATIONAL HOME because the Board felt the word “aged” inappropriate.

Early leadership.

Two names stand out as a team responsible for guiding the development of the Home from an idea to successful completion. Warren Williams, who served as President and board Chairman from 1958 – 1966; J. Churchill Sargent, officer and board member from 1958 – 1965, who contributed expertise both as a builder and as a negotiator of favorable financial terms for construction of the Home

A Board of Directors was selected, consisting of twelve members – three from each of the four Congregational Churches. Committees were formed, meetings were held, and considerable progress was made between 1958 and 1960.

On January 2, 1961, the Board employed Nathan Barr as Executive Director. Barr was then administrator of Gordon Memorial Hospital in Sioux City, Iowa, and he was hired to direct the development and do all the detail work necessary to bring the home to reality.

Location, location, location.

The Englers were formally thanked for their original idea and for the offer of land, but since their property was outside the city limits, several other possible locations for the Home were to be considered.

On April 30, 1961, a five-acre site containing a lovely eight-room native stone home on the south side of West 29th Street just west of Topeka Avenue, was purchase by the Board for $50,000. It was the home of George Snyder, a Topeka banker, and had been offered for sale after the death of his wife. The home would become the residence of Nathan Barr and his wife, Jean, during the entire time he served as Executive Director in Topeka. 

In April 1962 an additional five acres adjacent to the first tract, described as the Tilford property, was purchased for $55,000 by the Board, who determined it would enhance the value of the land already owned.

Who is "Brewster" and why is this his "Place"?

Although the legal name was THE CONGREGATIONAL HOME, the Board wanted a more appropriate descriptive everyday name for the Home. In October 1962, after receiving many suggestions, the Board approved the name “BREWSTER PLACE”, submitted by Topekans Stan and Maxine Emerson. Their inspiration came through research on Elder William Brewster, a young Englishman who studied at Cambridge and was a resourceful layman and Congregational leader. Brewster led a colony of Pilgrims to a coastal area of America to bring about freedom of worship and his name seemed like a logical choice to the Emersons. 

Groundbreaking ceremonies for Brewster Place took place on December 2, 1962, and construction of the $2,500,000 Home began.

Stay tuned to keep up with the 60 year rennovation of The Redwood in 2022!

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