On Saturday, January 26, 1889, when the little two-car steam train completed it’s first run to Highland Park, the residents of that new suburb were so happy that they dismissed the fact that the train was behind schedule by a matter of twelve months. Some two years earlier, Major J. K. Hudson, owner of the Topeka Daily Capital, had subdivided a recently purchased farm into the residential community first called High Land Park. Readers of the CAPITAL could not overlook the half-page announcements that appeared daily for months, in which prospective buyers were practically assured of free building sites if they would buy six lots for $1000, hold them until the Highland Park Circle Railway trains were running, then sell half the lots for $1,000 or more. Trains would be running, so prospects were advised, before winter of that year, 1887.
Unfortunately, the Highland Park Circle Railway never got off the drawing board if, indeed, it got that far. That first train to reach Highland Park got there on the south branch of the East Side Street Railway, a narrow gauge, steam motorized (dummy) line which was chartered Feb. 9, 1888.
When Maj. Hudson finally realized that investors were reluctant to finance a rapid transit railway to his sparsely populated suburb, with the aid of his banker, John R. Mulvane, he was able to interest the owner-developers of several new additions located east of Topeka’s city limits, to form a suburban rail system that would serve their properties, thereby enhancing sales possibilities.
Directors of the East Side Street Railway which was capitalized at $100,000, were prominent men in the Topeka area: T. W. Harrison, president; W. S. Curry, Highland Park, vice-president; John R. Mulvane, Bank of Topeka, treasurer; J. K. Hudson, George W. Veale, W.D. Alexander and S. L. Seabrook.
Franchises granted by both the county and city, authorized the construction of two branches. Starting from the Topeka terminal depot on the northwest corner of Ninth and Quincy, the route was eastward, crossing the Santa Fe and Missouri Pacific tracks on a wooden viaduct. Near the eastern end of the viaduct where the company’s roundhouse was located, the south or Highland Park branch started southward. It’s route was described in the December, 1956 BULLETIN (reprinted in this issue, p. 49) by one of our members, Horace Wilkie, who frequently took the dummy line from Topeka to visit his uncle and aunt, Major and Mrs. J. K. Hudson.
From the junction at the east end of the Ninth street viaduct, the Cottage Grove branch continued eastward to the intersection of Tenth street which it followed past Topeka Cemetery, crossing California Avenue and intersecting Sixth Street at Golden, then continuing east along Sixth Street to Cottage Grove, a new suburban tract about two miles east of Kansas avenue, located just north of the present U.S. 40 highway. Scheduled time for one-way trips on either branch
was twenty-five minutes. Fare, five cents; children, three cents. The charter application called for an extension of the Cottage Grove branch to Tecumseh but it was never built.
The F. C. Crowley Construction Co., Chicago, which had just built the West Side Circle Railway, a dummy line to Wanamaker, was selected to construct the East Side Street Railway line. The company’s directors, wholly inexperienced in street railway operations, somehow neglected to require the construction company to furnish a performance bond, a circumstance that proved very costly and contributed to forcing the railway into receivership.
From the beginning, financial troubles plagued the East Side Street Railway, usually referred to in the press as the East Side Circle Line. Before the last rails were laid, several suits for overdue debts were filed in the district court by suppliers of construction materials, naming both the Crowley Construction Co., and the railway company jointly as defendants. The cars had been running for less than sixty days when the train crews went on strike for back wages. No trains moved for two months.
On June 26, 1889, just five months after the line began to operate, the district court appointed a receiver, A. B. Bradstreet, to manage the debt-ridden East Side Street Railway. With the court’s approval, the receiver negotiated a loan of $12,000, part of which was used to settle claims for back wages, part to purchase much needed equipment, and the balance to extend the line east from the California Avenue terminal to a wooded resort area then known as Ament’s Grove but later Vinewood Park.
Service to Highland Park and Cottage Grove was resumed August 10, 1889, and work started on the extension. Several flat cars were purchased to haul building and paving stone from quarries on C. W. Ament’s acreage (which included Vinewood Park) to Topeka.
Just when Ament’s property was renamed Vinewood Park, is not known, however on Sept. 27, 1889, the local papers carried an announcement “C. W. Ament, owner of Vinewood Park, invites the public to spend tomorrow (Sunday) gathering nuts at the new park. Trains running now on the new line. Come out and see improvements being made. W. W. Bright, Supt.”
During the next two years operation of the East Side Street Railway was anything but satisfactory. The hourly service to Highland Park was cut to two trips a day. Mechanical failures resulted in frequent cancellation of trips. No payments could be made to creditors. Finally, on July 13, 1891 the property and franchise of the company was sold by court order by the sheriff, to George E. Williams, trustee for the bondholders. The following month the State Railroad Commission ordered the road to be placed in good operating condition or cease
operations. Instead of complying, Williams, with authority sold some of the passenger coaches. Only a court order restrained him from selling the steam locomotives.
On January 23, 1893, the franchise and physical assets of the East Side Street Railway were purchased by the newly organized Vinewood Park Land & Improvement Co. C. W. Ament exchanged the 476-acre park for stock in the new company. Those signing the charter, in addition to C. W. Ament were his brother, R. C. Ament, also of Topeka, John Wilson, Peoria, Ill., J. H. Vanarsdale, Osage Prairie, Ill., W. O. Vanarsdaye, Burton, Kan.
Six months after he new management of the line took charge, it’s financial plight was revealed by the press in reporting a meeting of the city council. residents along East Ninth Street had complained about “those horrid, smoky, noisy engines” at their front doors. At the same time the city was questioning the safety of the Ninth Street viaduct used by the railway. Vinewood Park and nearby quarries, assured the council that eventually the steam dummy engines were due to be replaced--just as soon as a gasoline motor, then under consideration, had been perfected. For the time being firemen on the dummy engines would be instructed to prevent excessive smoke.
One of the protesters, a man living on Ninth Street, spoke up, “I fired an engine for twelve years, and know one can’t be run without smoke. I saw a man try to make an engine run with gasoline once, in the oil region on Pennsylvania, and he nearly burned himself to death. If they can’t do it there, they can’t run an engine with gasoline here.”
J. G. Waters, attorney for the railway company, said: “the road has been unfortunate in it’s promoters. They robbed the workmen and took all the money and lit out. The citizens who helped the railway got a swift kick in the behind.”
Last to speak in behalf of the road, T. W. Harrison, first president of the company, said he had $3,500 invested in stock that he never expected to get out again. It was just a donation for the good of civic betterment.
On May 15, 1895 the old, decrepit East Side Street Railway Co., passed out of existence when it’s owners changed it’s name to the Topeka & Vinewood Park Railway Co., a name that was to figure importantly in the history of Topeka’s street railways.
The story of the new line and still another with which it was to merge, appears in “KPL in Kansas--A History of the Kansas Power & Light Company” by Dr. Edward G. Nelson, University of Kansas, who has given us permission to reprint a portion of the book dealing with railway lines which we are printing as a separate article, beginning on page 106.