William D. Middleton, in his The Time of the Trolley, (1967), stated that the street railway probably played the most important role in the development of the American city. He added: “More than any other single development, the electric railways contributed to the growth of the metropolitan suburbs . . . Not infrequently, real estate syndicates build electric railways just to promote their developments.”
Much of the suburban expansion to which Middleton referred took place in America’s big cities and in the areas of “golden opportunity,” notably southern California. However, the same kinds of development took place in the middle-western communities and Topeka was no exception. From the mid-1880’s into the early 1890’s Topeka saw it’s boundaries extended by the combined efforts of real estate and street railway promoters.
There were those members of Topeka’s fourth estate who were reluctant to say that Topeka was experiencing a “boom,” because that term often was associated with the less attractive “bust.” But it was a booming time for the Kansas capital and one writer who did use the term was James L. King. He prepared an essay about Topeka and her innumerable suburban prospects for Radge’s 1887 city directory, part of which deserves reprinting here:
“However trite it may sound, no one can write intelligently about Topeka without employing the word “boom.” Where all the citizens of a thriving community conspire to beat the bass drum in union, and shriek in grand chorus about railroads and manufacturing enterprises . . . nothing less explosive and gingerish than “boom” is admissible in doing the subject justice, and giving emphatic and picturesque expression to the sentiments and emotions which crowd the enthusiast’s brain.”
King devoted considerable space to all of Topeka’s booming development but he became most enthusiastic and entertaining when he discussed the new suburbs:
“As nearly every place has some distinguishing character istic, it may not be inappropriate to style 'Topeka the city of multiform additions.' For miles and miles around . . . the emerald meadows have been converted into marts of trade, the once smiling fields now echo to the rattle of the agent’s wagon, and the babbling creeks are swimming places for the tired suburban urchins. The barnyard of yesterday becomes the building site of the day after tomorrow, and the pasture wherein the timid lamb was wont to gambol, is dotted as if by magic with lemonade stands, street fakirs and fiends with subscription papers . . . A newcomer wrote back to his wife in Massachusetts that he had just purchased a fine corner in the center of the residence portion of Topeka, commanding a fine view of the Normal School building at Emporia.”
“Come, gentle reader, let us take a whirl through the suburbs, Lowman Hill was bought, platted and sold within twelve months. The Martin & Denis eighty went off like the traditional cakes. Eucid Park and College Hill . . . are running neck-and-neck for the Register of Deeds. We have passed Throop’s addition and the Williams & Dillon tract . . . The Ott & Tewksbury purchase has attracted general attention. Seabrook is ready to come into town on the rapid transit . . . Potwin is known everywhere as an elegant suburb. Irving Place is a classic spot. Inside figures may still be obtained on Arlington Heights, a most desirable property.”
“Not tired, are you? All right! It is only a short drive to the J. W. Morris addition. This is one of the principal points on the Rapid Transit road, and Bartholomew pronounces the lots to be the cheapest in the city. The locality is adjacent to the mills and shops. The laborer residing here can go to his work in the morning while the dew is on the grass and at night he can support his family by fishing in the river while he listens to the merry song of the cicada amid the leaves.”
“Here we are at Gilmore Heights, a station on the Deer Creek cable, where your hair is brushed by the jagged edges of the clouds. Although elevated, the lots are not high . . .”
“This is Highland Park, where Major J.K. Hudson, the retired editor, is making up, in a life of calm contentment, for the turmoil and strife incident to the newspaper business. Thanks to the energy of the proprietor, Highland Park now boasts the largest circulation in the world. The circle railroad will soon connect Highland with Topeka proper, and make it accessible alike to professional men, business men, and all who desire a perfect home place . . . “
“We have now reached a point upon which it is pleasant to dwell, one of the city’s newest additions, Quinton Heights, a picturesque and eligible location for suburban homes, in close proximity to Washburn College, with all the advantages of high ground, groves, water and charming surrounding. With the extension of the Rapid Transit railroad, it is only a few minutes’ ride to the heart of the city . . . Happy indeed is the man whose lot is cast on the
ground floor of Quinton Heights.” Many of the areas mentioned by King retain those same designations in 1969 but others have long since disappeared except for their inclusion on official plats. The Martin & Dennis addition was south of 17th between the fair grounds and the Washburn campus; Euclid Park ran for two and one-half blocks north of 17th between MacVicar and Oakley. The Williams and Dillon tract was bounded by Huntoon and 12th and Lincoln and Washburn; the Ott & Tewksbury land ran from 17th to Douthitt and from Taylor to Western; Arlington Heights was on the south side of 6th, west of the State Hospital; Irving Place was east of the Topeka cemetery and the Morris addition was a part of present Oakland; Gilmore Heights was immediately west of the state’s present Diagnostic and Reception Center (the old KTI campus).
The promotional piece [see following facsimile] in Radge’s directory is obviously overdone--as was most promotional writing--but the writer did not exaggerate concerning the number of suburban developments. Nor does one exaggerate, in retrospect, the close connection between the opening of the suburbs and the extension of street railways in Topeka.
Early evidence of the correlation between public transportation and real estate expansion can be found in the 1884 advertisements of Stilson and Bartholomew, real estate brokers. A four column ad appeared in the Daily Capital, September 12, 1884, and in the form of an open letter announced that a contract had been closed with the Topeka City Railway Company (horse cars) to extended its line west of 19th street to serve a new addition. “with these facilities this locality will prove to be the most desirable residence portion of our beautiful city,” said Stilson and Bartholomew. Suburbia was on it’s way.
The real boom began two years later when the Topeka Rapid Transit Street Railway began construction. One of the line’s incorporators was J.B. Bartholomew of the above mentioned real estate firm and probably the primary local promoter of suburban development. The new service was to extend from “the most extreme southern suburbs of the city of Topeka to the extreme northeastern.” From Quinton Heights to Oakland ran the Rapid Transit’s southern terminus. Quinton Heights was laid out by A. B. Quinton and R. B. Steele and the hill at the north end of what is now the Country Club section came in for a great many elaborate descriptions of it’s scenic beauty and the view that it offered for the residents who took advantage of it. The claim made for a view of the Normal School in Emporia was supplemented by statements which advertised an unobstructed view of the Neosho valley (with a spyglass!) and praised various “grand and picturesque” vistas.
Southeast of town, J.K. Hudson, founder of the Daily Capital, decided to plat his farm for development as Highland Park. Along with his plans for real estate he organized the East Side Street Railway company (also known as the East Side Circle) so that his portion of suburbia would have it’s own rail service. Naturally, the Capital contained news of Hudson’s plans and complimentary comments about Highland Park and it's railroad. Hudson also got some compliments and good wishes from his competition. An editorial note in Frank Root’s North Topeka Mail, March 25, 1887, said:
“Major J.K. Hudson, editor of the Daily Capital, who has had his ups and downs the past fifteen or twenty years, promises soon to be one of the bloated millionaires of Topeka. He is now engaged extensively in real estate transactions and his interest in the Highland Park addition which overlooks the city and is laid out and being graded and handsomely improved, will be connected by the circle railway in a few months and net the Major inside of three years a cool half million. His numerous friends throughout the state will congratulate him on his good luck.”
No figures are readily available on the gains and/or losses which Hudson accrued but his railroad really ran and Highland Park did develop, as did Cottage Grove and Franklin Park along the East Side road’s line.
Real estate advertisements appeared in ever increasing numbers in 1887 and 1888 and all of them stressed street railways. On March 15, 1887, the Daily Capital contained a Bartholomew announcement for John Norton’s Second Addition on the city’s east side which was served by the Rapid Transit--bringing it within eight minutes’ ride of the heart of the city.” Lots were also going on sale in the Morris addition for $100 each and the Rapid Transit would get the buyer there. The service was good and the bargains were “unmatchable.”
By September of 1887, Bartholomew and Co, was buying even more space in Topeka newspapers and the Rapid Transit and the new additions continued to share top billing. From the state house to Oakland Grove for a nickel--beautiful lots only a few steps away from the “best street car line known at the present moment”--a Topekan’s
fondest hopes might be realized in the suburbs--and so it went.
Although much of the promotion was local there were some outside interests involved. There was the gigantic “Boston Syndicate”, discussed elsewhere in this issue, which specialized in the inevitable combination of rails and suburban lots.
An additional outside plan came from H.D. Booge and various associates who ranged from Sioux City to New York to Topeka. Booge filed a charter of incorporation on April 23, 1888, for the Chicago Heights, Potwin Place and South Topeka Electric Motor Railway company. The name was longer than the railroad because it never came into being but it was projected to run from Chicago Heights (a mile north of Elmont) to South Topeka, an incorporated village.
Booge had big ideas and he spared no effort as he contacted potential investors all over the world. According to the State Journal of May 17, 1888, Booge had received letters from the King of Saxony, governors of several Mexican states and various prominent Europeans relative to Chicago Heights’ possibilities. Despite his ads and his purported letters from heads of state, Chicago Heights, like it’s connecting railroad, existed only on paper.
Other Topeka promotions continued to boom. On January 1, 1889, the Daily Capital announced that one company alone, operating in connection with the Rapid Transit, built 315 houses in new additions in 1888 and planned to construct 500 more in the coming year. Both the Belt Line and the Highland Park road were featured in ads which extolled the virtues of additional subdivisions being promoted by Burson and Marshall, and Albert Tomson and Company.
The builders of Oakland came forth with a new rush of advertising in 1889, all of it tied to the Rapid Transit company which was by then commonly called “the electric.” According to the new ads Oakland was the model American community with “clean, cozy homes, a contented people, a refined society.” It was a “safe haven after a storm” with pure air and dry cellars. It’s park was beautiful and the electric line would furnish special cars to private parties who wished to have an outing.
One Topeka real estate firm was stepping up its promotion of Thurston Place, which lay south of Huntoon and east of College avenue. Thurston Place was the “most beautiful residence site inside the city” but the electric Rapid Transit which took one there was “a thing of beauty and a joy forever.” Beauty was obviously in the eye of the beholder--or the promoter.
Auburndale, on the 6th street horse car line, and it’s neighbor Potwin Place, grew in 1889. While the transportation element received less attention than in other areas the ads for Auburndale still pointed out how one should travel to and from the new housing.
Other advertisements through 1889 were repetitive, whether they praised housing or street railways, and the boom ran on. Forty-five additions and subdivisions were annexed by; city council action, according to the State Journal of August 10, 1889. This is an impressive total for any city at any time and certainly indicative of the extensive promotion at the height of the boom.
Despite efforts of suburban promoters, the boom could not continue at that pace and in 1890 the decline began. The street railways had taken people to the outskirts of the city and many of those people stayed there and prospered. However, there were too many lots laid out and too many deals made without sound financing. The mortgage malady which struck so hard at Western farmers in the 1880's and 1890’s could also strike city dwellers, and it did. Although C.S. Gleed wrote in 1896 that most of the real estate calamities could be blamed on “freebooters from the East” it must be remembered that there was a great deal of home-grown talent involved in the Topeka boom. It did not necessarily take Easterners to blow or burst a bubble.
By 1882 the magnificent promotions were ending and by 1893, a year of great depression, it was all over. There would be an economic revival, as always, and in 1907 the Daily Capital could say that the street railway had “brought prosperity to the suburbs.” But that was a different era. Nothing could compare with the 1880’s when, hand in hand, railway and real estate entrepreneurs worked at making Topeka’s suburbs bigger and better.
CITY RAILWAY HEADQUARTERS at northeast corner of Tenth & Jackson, where horses and cars were stabled. At extreme left may be seen a wing of the State Capitol. On it's right, Jackson public school, formerly Lincoln College. This site is now occupied by the Memorial Building, home of the Kansas State Historical Society and American Legion State Headquarters. Photo courtesy of Harry C. Snyder.