In the late 1880’s, Kansas was still a victim of railroad fever, a malaise which had been all but epidemic since shortly after the territory was created. Few sections of the state were immune and Topeka was no exception.
One scheme, typical of the times, was proposed by a group of North Topeka business and professional men who planned a short inter-urban line to run from the intersection of Gordon Street and Central Avenue, up the Kaw Valley to Rossville--and perhaps eventually even further. The purpose of the proposed line was to act as a feeder for the large railroads which were serving Topeka: the Santa Fe, the Union Pacific, the Rock Island and the Missouri Pacific. The short line was to be built in standard gauge of materials strong enough to handle heavily loaded, full-sized rolling stock “thus virtually giving to shippers [along the valley] the advantages of Topeka terminal facilities.”
The North Topeka, Silver Lake and Rossville Rapid Transit Company was incorporated in Topeka on October 28, 1887. It’s nine directors included Andrew J. Arnold, druggist with George W. Stansfield at 819 North Kansas Avenue; Dr. S. N. Bergen, physician, 821 North Kansas; Edward Buechner, butcher, 808 North Kansas; John M. Bryan, farmer, who lived at 1131 North Kansas; A. W. Pliley, a horticulturist who lived at 110 West E [Gordon] but whose farm was just south of Bryan’s; George C. Stoker, capitalist who lived at 1025 North Gordon; John C. Watt who, with Charles B. Powell and Edwin Brazier, had shoe stores at 416 Kansas and 833 North Kansas; and M. T. Campbell, lawyer, at 423 Kansas.
These entrepreneurs were not young men, most being in their 40’s. Undoubtedly they had long been friends and acquaintances because of the proximity of their places of business and of their homes. Some had served together in the Civil War, a few in Co. F, 15th and Kansas Volunteer Cavalry which was mostly made up of North Topekans. One or two were pioneers in the area, like Pliley who located in Shawnee county in 1858 after an adventurous life on the frontier and in the California gold fields.
None of the nine directors had had any railroad experience but they were respected in their fields and a local newspaper was confident that they were “trying to do right.” Though the road had an authorized capital of $250,000 it is doubtful if actual cash ever approached that figure since the directors were the sole stockholders.
Other financial assistance was promised, however, in the form of bond issues by Soldier and Silver Lake townships. Under terms of state law, municipal townships were authorized to float such issues, if approved by the voters, to purchase stock in railroad companies building through the townships. The bonds could not be issued and the stock purchased until the line had been completed through the township or to the spot in the township stipulated in it’s proposal. Soldier township voted $8,000 in bonds for the Rapid Transit on February 7, 1888, and Silver Lake township later voted an additional $15,000. The latter issue was dependent on the line’s
reaching Rossville by December 1, 1888.
By late winter the Rapid Transit had 20 miles of road under construction, the North Topeka MAIL reported on March 9, and another 40 miles “in view.” Director John C. Watt was optimistic, predicting that the day was very near when all short haul traffic would be carried by Rapid Transit.
The early report of construction and Mr. Watt’s enthusiasm were apparently unfounded for in June grading on the line had reach a point only two miles west of Menoken. Rails were spiked to that place by early July and on the sixth the Shawnee county commissioners authorized payment of Soldier township’s bonds to the NTSL&R. Another two months were to pass before service could be inaugurated, however. On September 3 the first motor car arrived in Topeka and the maiden voyage was made next day.
A reporter for the Rossville TIMES described a trip over the four and a half mile line on October 19, 1888:
Mr. Evans, informed the TIMES representative that he could assure the Rossville people that the road will be completed to Rossville and in operation within fifty days, sure, and that from this time on, track laying will move on speedily. Graders are at work near Menoken, and the purchasing agent says the supplies are all contracted for carrying on the work as far as Rossville, which is as far as the company will build this year. On the portion of the road thus far completed 35-lb. rails have been laid, but these are to be torn up and used as sidings, and the entire road built of 40 or 56-lb. steel rails. The road bed is to be constructed as a regular standard line, so that the heaviest freight cars and
locomotives can move over it, delivering U.P., R.I, Santa Fe, Mo. Pac. and any cars that may be needed at points along the road for unloading, and returning them the tracks of the respective roads over which the are to be shipped . . . .
The directors of the road are John M. Bryan, president; J. B. Evans, vice-president; M. R. Mitchell, treas.; Ed Brazier, purchasing agent; and Dr. Bergen, solicitor. They are all North Topeka men, and are the sole projectors of the enterprise. They have investments along the line, owning Oak Grove in Soldier township and the large and attractive grove at Silver Lake, which they will improve and make attractive for picnics, etc.
The rapid transit road will be convenience to us, and we welcome it. The fare for the round trip will be 35 or 40 cents.
Surveyors of the Rapid Transit reached Silver Lake on November 5 and the Rossville TIMES, four days later predicted that the track would be completed to that place in two weeks. In the same issue the TIMES reported that the officers of the line were planning to continue the road on up [to] Cross Creek valley to Havensville. From there it could connect with other railroads such as the Central Branch, Union Pacific. “This will give to all who reside along the route excellent facilities for both travel and shipping,” the paper stated.
Monetary problems continued to plague the Rapid Transit, however, and the tracks still had not reached Rossville by December. The township bond issue was forfeited but the Rossville TIMES was not disheartened. “Good things come slow,” it said on December 12. “The time has not yet arrived for joining the ranks of those experiencing that ‘hope deferred that maketh the heart sick.’”
But the North Topeka, Silver Lake, and Rossville had reached it’s limit. Rumor in late winter had it that the Missouri Pacific had purchased the line lock, stock and barrel but this was not true. The little steam dummy engine-coach continued to run between North Topeka and Menoken in spite of a suit against the line for failure to pay for it’s motive power and a minor accident suffered in September, 1889. Just when service was discontinued is not known.
An attempt to revive the scheme with a new company, the Westmoreland, Marysville & Topeka railroad, also failed and with a few years the five short miles of track were torn up.
A. W. Freeman, at the right, was snapped with the car he used to run “way back when” he was a motorman on the Cemetery line in 1904. But the Cemetery line wasn’t headed in the right direction for “Cap” Freeman, and , besides, the speed wasn’t right. He is now Superintendent of the Topeka Railway and Bus Lines, employing 125 men.
From Kansas Power & Light’s Current Topeka, ca. 1930