After four long years marked by optimistic reports alternating with disappoint- ments, the day finally arrived, November 15, 1908, when construction of the interurban line to Eskridge finally began. that day at high noon, a huge crowd assembled at the southeast corner of Washburn College campus, to witness the ground-breaking ceremony. Present were city and county officials from Shawnee and Wabaunsee counties. In the crowd were many who had invested in stocks or bonds which had been issued to finance the long delayed construction of the Topeka & Southwestern Railway Co.
Before the president of the line, W. L. Taylor, a Topeka grain dealer, started to dig the traditional firs spade full of earth, he paused to inform the crowd--of course the press was there--of some exceedingly good news. Despite the financial depression the nation was then experiencing, nothing could stop construction of the railroad. The bonds had been sold, and now “all we have to do is build our railroad.”
After lifting the first spadeful of earth, a heavy grading plow pulled by six big gray horses, began to turn a long furrow that ended at what is now 21st & MacVicar. Traces of the grade can be seen today along the extreme southern edge of the campus, between College and Jewell Avenues.
Six months after President Taylor’s pronouncement that nothing could stop the construction of the railroad, he learned that the proceeds of the bond sale had vanished with the failure of Lamprecht Bros. Co., New York, the firm that had not only floated the bond issue but had also been awarded the contract to build the line. Lamprecht Brothers, sort of a one-stop banking and building outfit, was insolvent. Thus, the long awaited interurban line to Eskridge was, after all, a victim of the aftermath of the 1907 Wall Street panic.
Almost five years to the day before the go und-breaking ceremony, November 18, 1903, the idea of an interurban line to communities southwest of Topeka, took form in the application for a charter by The Topeka, Eskridge & Council Grove Interurban Railroad Co., with a modest capitalization of $50,000. It’s incorporators, all prominent citizens of the area, included Robert Stone, attorney, as president, T. J. Anderson, secretary of the corporation and also of the Topeka Commercial Club, E. B. Merriam, Merriam Mortgage Co., Topeka, and Peter Heil, seed and feed dealer.
The first stage of construction was to be from Topeka to Eskridge, with the extension to Council Grove to follow as soon as the first section was in operation. Townships along the route were asked to vote bonds to subsidize construction of the line, on the basis of $2,000 for every mile
within a township. Promoters of the line advanced the argument to voters that once the interurban line was a going concern, it would be paying enough in taxes to more than offset interest on the bonds.
Topeka township voters approved a bond issue of $30,000 which was to apply on the purchase of right of way and a down town terminal and switching facilities. But one critical township, Mission, immediately west of Topeka township, turned down the bonds, and without the support of Mission, the line could not be built. On June 5, 1905, Charles K. Holiday (son of Cyrus K. of A.T.& S.F. fame) who had succeeded Robert Stone as president of the T.E.& C.G.I. RR, told the press that the line was doomed.
directors of the Topeka & Southwestern Railroad
(at time of incorporation):
Topeka State Journal, January 30, 1907
A few months later, W. L. Taylor, chairman of the transportation committee, Topeka Commercial Club, returned from a trip to New York City where he had persuaded the railroad banking construction firm, Lamprecht Brothers, to back his plan for reorganizing the now defunct Eskridge interurban line. On February 26, 1907, a charter was issued to a new corporation which had the backing of the Commercial Club--the Topeka & Southwestern Railroad Co., with a capitalization of 1,500,000. Taylor, president, announced that the line would have standard-gauge track with steam locomotives for freight, but gasoline-electric motive power for interurban passenger and milk-hauling service.
First, Topeka business and professional people were solicited by Commercial Club volunteers, to buy bonds in the new railroad. When this campaign failed to reach the city’s quota of $50,000 (excluding the township bond issue that was voted) the solicitors undaunted, inaugurated a residential door-to-door selling program that produced a few cash sales and a profusion of pledges, the majority of which turned out to
be uncollectible. In the meantime, the promoters of the project kept the press advised with a series of progress reports, almost identical except for the projected time: “Dirt will be flying no later than . . . . .”
Conceivably, not a grain of dirt would have flown had it not been for a contract drawn up by Washburn College, granting the railroad a mile of right of way along the southern border of the campus. The consideration was $1,000 but that sum would be forfeited unless construction started no later than December 31, 1908. With only six weeks to go before the deadline, the contractors started grading, and completed only four miles westward from 21st & Washburn Ave. (then Bolles) before winter weather put a stop, permanently, to construction work. Collapse of Lamprecht Brothers Co., occurred before work could be resumed in the spring.
Hope for the line to Eskridge was revived some two years later when a Salina, Kansas, railroad promoter, H. Leon Miller, tentatively offered to pay the stockholders $50,000 for the franchise, the maps and engineering data, and assume all current liabilities. The directors of the railroad promptly voted to accept the windfall but the deal was called off when a group of creditors threatened to file suit unless their claims were paid in full before the transfer of any shares of stock.
So ends the seven year history of a railroad that just escaped the category of “paper” by four miles of graded right of way, but without a single length of rail.
John W. Ripley
(Pages 86 -91)
How the Topeka and Southwestern Railroad plans to enter Topeka. From TOPEKA STATE JOURNAL, August 24, 1907.