Westward Expansion Targets Kaw River Valley
Two historic nineteenth-century movements combined to create the city of Topeka—one was the antislavery issue and the other was the westward expansion made possible by the railroad, which connected the East with the vast unsettled territory in the West. Before the Kansas frontier was opened by the federal government to settlement, the first people of European descent to live on the site of present-day Topeka were the French-Canadian Pappan brothers. They each married a woman from the Kaw tribe in 1842 and opened a ferry service across the Kaw River. The ferry was temporarily replaced in 1857 when bridge builders ignored warnings from the local Native Americans, who insisted that structures built too close to the Kaw would not be secure against flood waters. The bridge was destroyed in a flood the following year.
Colonel Cyrus K. Holliday, a native of Pennsylvania, came to the Kansas Territory in 1854 with funding from Eastern investors to build a railroad. Holliday and a few pioneers had walked 45 miles from Kansas City to Lawrence, where Holliday approached Dr. Charles Robinson, agent of the New England Emigrant Aid Company, an antislavery organization, about his plan. Then Holliday and Robinson traveled 21 miles to Tecumseh, but businessmen there wanted too much money for their land. Holliday located a spot 5 miles from Tecumseh along the river and purchased land from Enoch Chase, who had previously bought it from the Kaws.
Holliday formed a company, naming himself as president and the Lawrence contingent and Chase as stockholders. Holliday wanted to name the town Webster after Daniel Webster, but the others preferred a name whose meaning was local; they chose Topeka, a Native American word meaning "smokey hill," according to one version, or "a good place to dig potatoes," according to another. The City of Topeka was incorporated February 14, 1857 with Holliday as mayor. Dr. Robinson attracted antislavery New Englanders to settle in Topeka, thus counteracting the influence of a proslavery group in Tecumseh. A Free State constitutional convention was held in Topeka but federal troops arrested the new legislators when they tried to
meet on July 4, 1855.
Statehood Brings Capital to Topeka
in Topeka Gains International Fame
Today, Topeka is recognized for its strong economic development efforts and high quality of life. In 2003 Business Facilities magazine wrote, "While the national economy lags, relocations and expansions are happening all over Kansas, with Topeka leading the way."Expansion Management magazine gave the city its highest rating in the Annual Quality of Life Quotient survey.
Historical Information: Kansas State Historical Society, 6425 SW Sixth Ave, Topeka, KS 66615; telephone (785)272-8681; fax (785)272-8682
Topeka Railway Company
The Topeka Railway Company was a local interurban railroad serving its namesake city. It employed all Birney-built streetcars and lasted until July of 1937 when services were discontinued.
Topeka had 47 miles of electric street railway and 7 miles of suburban.
This red brick 40,000 square foot warehouse for unique and vintage furniture and contemporary art was once the home for the former Topeka Rapid Transit Power Station. Built in 1889, it was first home to the trolley system that went from Oakland to Potwin to Quinton Heights. The Grandmontagnes acquired it in 2006 and turned it into a warehouse and large showroom space for their vast collection of unique items.
19— Topeka Rapid Transit Power Station, 414 E. Second Street (1888-1889). A red brick structure which was erected to house the power plant for Topeka's electric street railway system, the first trolley system in Kansas. The building was designed by the Topeka architectural firm of Hadley and Cooper and cost an estimated $12,000. The system was in full operation by April 9, 1889. Acquired by the Kansas Power and Light Company in 1927, the system continued operation until July 17, 1937.