One hundred and two years ago one of our leading hotels, the Topeka House, boasted in it’s advertisements, “An Omnibus Runs To and From All Trains.” The fact that all trains stopping at Topeka then consisted of the daily westbound “up” train on the Kansas Pacific, and the eastbound “down” train, is unimportant to our story. The omnibus referred to, probably operated by the Kansas Stage Line, was apparently the first public transit vehicle to operate on a regular schedule on Topeka’s streets. True, there was always a line of hacks awaiting trains at the depot, but these four-passenger, two-horse-powered closed carriages were the counterparts of today’s taxicabs, and did not follow prescribed routes.
Two types of omnibuses were used here and elsewhere. The standard eight-passenger enclosed coach was usually pulled by a team of two horses. Heavy mud often called for four horses. The larger buses which carried as many as twenty passengers, were pulled by four, sometimes six horses. The standard fare for many years, between hotels and depots, was twenty-five cents. Only dudes from the east were foolish enough to tip the driver.
Nine years before the first street car appeared on our streets, the Southwestern Stage & Omnibus Company introduced a shuttle service along Kansas Avenue. Announcement of the street omnibus line was regarded by the Topeka Daily Common wealth as front page news. The story indicated the remoteness of North Topeka in those days. The following from the issue of April 24, 1872:
THE TEN CENT BUS
We would call the attention of our citizens to the fact that on and after today a ‘bus will run every hour from Tenth avenue to the first ward, along Kansas Avenue, for the sum of ten cents per passenger. It will leave Tenth Avenue at 8 o’clock A.M. and run until 7 P.M. except to regular trains when passengers will be conveyed at regular prices.
This is a new enterprise, care and diligence which has always characterized the ‘bus line from the gentlemanly super-intendent, James Anderson, down to each and every driver, warrants us in urging our citizens to patronize the new enterprise under all circumstances. It is a better arrangement than street cars, because the transit will be more rapid.
Hot and disagreeable weather could be avoided by this means--in visiting the first ward. The citizens of both sides can become acquainted with each other, and cultivate those friendly feelings which should exist between inhabitants of the same city.
Finally, then, let everyone ride to the other side of the water
on the ten-cent ‘bus.
Eight years later Col. John W. Hartzell inaugurated a true economy bus service that made page one of the State Journal, September 30, 1880: “One of Mr. Hartzell’s old two-house busses came out in a brand new garb and looking as gay as a spring daisy. It’s name is “Stella” and she will carry passengers at 5 cents apiece between North and South Topeka.”
The Topeka Omnibus Company which was to become the oldest and most successful local firm of it’s kind, was first listed in Sam Radges’ city directory of 1976-77. William B. Terry was the owner. His son, Theodore was superintendent. Their office was in a building at the southeast corner of sixth and Kansas avenue.
On March 18, 1879 the Commonwealth noted that Terry & Son had sold their omnibus line to Col. J.W. Harzell who was then part owner of the Tefft House, a leading hotel located on the northwest corner of Seventh and Kansas Avenue. The purchase of the omnibus line was the first of Hartzell’s several ventures in transit firms here and elsewhere. In 1880 he bought from C. P. Bolmar, the Topeka Transportation Co., a baggage and freight hauling concern, and merged it with the omnibus line into a corporation chartered as The Topeka Transportation and Omnibus Co., the complete title of which was rarely used. However, Sam Radges’ Topeka City Directory for 1880 created an even more ponderous and enigmatic listing: Topeka Omnibus Transportation & Street Chariot Company, J.W. Hartzell, mgr. “Sweet Chariot,” we recognize: “street chariot,” we don’t.
From the Daily Capital New Years roundup of local business firms, Jan. 5, 1881, we learn that Hartzell’s omnibus company operated seven omnibuses, two street hacks and thirty horses. The company carried U.S. mail and railroad baggage. Elsewhere in the Capital that same week, a reader ad stated “Parties of eight or ten desiring to go to Soldier Creek to skate, can have a street wagon for 25 cents each round trip. J.W. Hartzell, Topeka Omnibus Co.” The following summer the newspapers noted that the omnibus company was busy on Sundays taking parties to the Wakarusa for outings. The Journal invariably referred to them as “pic-nicers.”
With the advent of City Railways’s, horse cars in 1881, the hourly omnibus service along Kansas Avenue was discontinued. Soon after, what was advertised as a “street wagon” was operated on a regular schedule by the omnibus company, west from Sixth and Kansas Avenues to Clay Street. However, this passenger service was soon replaced by an extension of
the City Railway’s horse car line along West Sixth Street to the city limits, the present Washburn Avenue.
Col. Hartzell may be credited with providing the first public transportation between Topeka and the then remote Washburn College and the College Hill community. Soon after the opening of the 1881 fall term at Washburn College, Hartzell announced an omnibus would leave Sixth and Kansas Avenue, Monday through Friday, at 8:30 A.M. to accommodate college students. The return trip was scheduled to leave the campus at 3:30 P.M. Fare, 50 cents a week, paid in advance. Single fares, 5 cents each way.
A man of exceptional vision, Hartzell pioneered locally what were to be known as trolley parks as means of generating new traffic for transit lines. Some ten years before Oakland Grove and Vinewood Park were developed by local rapid transit systems, Hartzell leased a timbered tract along Soldier Creek that today is Garfield Park. Picnic tables were provided. A small zoo was assembled, and row boats were made available. Hartzell’s omnibuses, normally idle on Sundays, were crowded with passengers bound for either Hartzell’s Park or Capital Island in the Kansas river, east of the Kansas Avenue bridge. The island resort was reached by a flight of steps from the bridge.
The State Journal, July 5, 1881, itemed: “Hartzell’s Park is a success; the street cars [City Railway’s horse cars] was big thing, and the omnihus company is an indispensable medium of transportation on such occasions as yesterday.”
John Hartzell’s interest in horseflesh other than working stock, is evident from the following news from the Daily Commonwealth, October 21, 1881:
Topeka Omnibus Company has purchased from Rufus Bean, the Bean Addition [south of tenth street and east of Washington ave.] for $8,000. They [Omnibus Co.] turned in trotting horses, “Mary Miller,” “Ripple,” and “Kentucky Chief,” for %4,000 paying the balance in cash.
Whether or not that transaction was another trade of a $1,000,000 cow for a $1,000,000 sow, is unclear.
Although the era of street railways saw the decline of omnibus service here and elsewhere, strangely, the Topeka Omnibus Company continued it’s operations, though limited in scope, for thirty-six years--longer than any other local transit concern. Established in 1876, the Topeka Omnibus Company’s vehicles continued to shuttle between railroad stations and hotels until 1912.
COL. JOHN W. HARTZELL
A pioneer in street transportation whose Topeka Omnibus Co. not only gave the equivalent of "taxi" service between hotels and railroad depots but, prior to the advent of horse cars, offered regular shuttle service between Topeka and North Topeka.
Photo on upper left of page: Two of Hartzell's street chariots awaiting fares at the Rock Island "Lines" temporary depot in North Topeka. Photo, William C. Ellington Jr.
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