In 1902, proposals to electrify the Topeka & Vinewood Park line were announced with a conviction that had not been present in other years. The principal promoter of this change was John Wilson of Pekin and Peoria, Illinois, a glucose manufacturer, banker, and proprietor of a wholesale grocery firm and a distillery. L. E. Meyer of Chicago, widely known contractor, builder and operator of public utilities, was in charge of construction.

Supervising much of the work in Topeka was E. W. Wilson, John Wilson’s son. Thus, two of the men who played leading roles in the purchase of the Illuminating Company came to Topeka in 1902 to rebuild and electrify the Vinewood Park Railway. They were soon joined by others with similar interests, but not before Wilson and Myers had traveled a long and rocky road.

A ROCK ROAD: Merchants, the Commercial Club, and the residents of Highland Park were enthusiastic about the proposed new development. Others opposed the proposition. The Vinewood Park Railway had a dark and forbidding history and there was opposition to a franchise for the new Company. One group opposed the ordinance because members thought the line would be an entering wedge for an interurban from Kansas City and they wished to save Topeka for the Santa Fe; a another group were residents of Highland Park who did not want the dirty, noisy cars near their homes. But the strength of the opposition--the hard central core--came from land owners who would not sell their property for a right of way. * (*From the BULLETIN, #26, Dec. 1956, p. 45. About the William Smith Curry family.)-The one problem with boundaries came up later when the Topeka Railway Company sought to build a track for the railroad it proposed to run through this area and on east to an amusement center, Vinewood Park. Mrs. Curry, then a widow, who favored the idea of dependable transportation, protested the idea that this track should come too close to her home. The line had to cross the Curry twenty acres (subdivided) somewhere, so an agreement was reached to place the roadbed a reasonable distance west of the house. This accounts for the unusual winding course of Maryland Avenue as it approaches Twenty-first Street from the south.)

The Company had weapons in it’s arsenal. It signed a contract to purchase power from the Illuminating Company; it let it be known the line would cost $100,000 and that Mr. Wilson was accountable in his ability to raise $10,000,000. Perhaps the Company’s most important defense was a failure to deny rumors that operations would be moved to Iowa where Wilson and Myers had other substantial investments in the event the courts ruled adversely on condemnation suits.

The railroad right of way, with the exception of one tract of land, had been appraised and condemned. The owner of the single tract secured an injunction restraining the railway from using the property. In granting the injunction, the court held that a street railway does not have the power of eminent domain. [18] This decision opened the way for other landowners to bring similar actions.

All construction ceased while the railway company’s directors considered abandoning the project. Finally, after months of uncertainty, peace returned again when Myers, the contractor, announced the Company would not fight the injunction and that a new route, bypassing Highland Park, would be chosen. [19]

By the fall of 1902, Topeka had the idea that Wilson and Myers were planning to acquire all the railway lines in the city. “Our people will build no more outside lines, but . . . extend inside the city after we have completed the present road,” F. G. Kelley, manager, explained. [20] Two weeks later, it was said the Company would ask for a franchise to run tracks “all over the city.” T. F. Doran, attorney for the Company, denied there had been any change in plans. [21] Doran was denying his clients would purchase independent lines in order to discourage speculation.

The rumors soon gained strength when Doran announced the Vinewood Park Railway would seek a franchise to operate along Fifth Street from Quincy to the Santa Fe depot. The CAPITAL described the situation.

In a fit of misguided generosity the council granted to the Topeka Railway company a franchise so devoid of restrictions that the city has been having trouble with that corporation ever since it’s enactment. The next city railway franchise issued will have a time lock and a burglar alarm . . . . As the Fifth Street franchise appears to be only an entering wedge behind which it is intended to bring in a whole city railway system the old company [Topeka Railway Company] is more than ordinarily interested at the attitude of the council. [22]

Winter was quiet without new stories about the railways. Tension mounted in mid March, however, when the CAPITAL reported as fact all that had been rumored during the previous fall:

The Vinewood Park and the city railway companies have consolidated. No official announcement of this fact has been made, but neither is it denied. What is more, it is said, orders have been issued from Chicago that the city railway tracks along Kansas Avenue are to be torn up and replaced by the regulation Vinewood tracks. Work on this, it is claimed, will begin in ten days or two weeks. [23]

MERGER AND REBUILDING: Who’s who? It was not easy to confirm the CAPITAL’S statement. F. G. Kelley refused to say the newspaper’s conclusion was true and suggested a reporter wait a few days until Mr. Wilson was in

town. President Wilson arrived saying he came to give testimony in a court case. But when asked if the lines had consolidated, he was reported to have replied, “well, the indications point that way.” [24]

This game was more than play. It was difficult to get construction equipment to work out arrangements with other city railway lines. C. C. Baker, president of the Topeka Railway Co., returned from an eastern trip saying there was no merger as he understood the word. However, he would not deny the general reports appearing in the press. [25]

The following day Baker was ready to talk. “The two roads will be organized under one company,” he said, “and will be known as the Topeka Railway Company. Passengers will be transferred from one road to the other without additional fare. The entire track of the City Railway will be relaid and new and modern cars will take the place of the old cars now in service. Four hundred thousand dollars will be expended in making a modern railway out of the old one.” [26]

THE SYNDICATE: The consolidation was managed by a syndicate headed by Bernard E. Sunny, who had been a former telegraph, superintendent of the Chicago Telephone Company, president of the Chicago Arc Light and Power Company, and currently was western manager of General Electric. It included E. W. Wilson, who, in addition to his interest in the Vinewood Park line, had invested in street railways in Illinois; L. E. Myers; L. W. Noyes, president of the Air Motor Company in Chicago; Adolph Nathan, a Chicago capitalist; and J. B. Wilbur, president of the Royal Trust Company of Chicago; and the United Electrical Securities Company of Boston, a holding company with investments in public utilities in several states.

Local men were also invited to participate. They included W. H. Holmes, president of the Pioneer Trust Company of Kansas City, Isaac Burr, a former director of the Santa Fe; John Mulvane; Joab Mulvane; C. C. Baker: Edward Wilder; and others.

Apparently, the syndicate planned to form a new company to own and operate all Topeka’s railway lines. There was, however, some reported difference of opinion concerning who was buying whom. C. C. Baker gave the impression that stockholders of the Topeka Railway Co., would hold the majority of shares in the new company. Wilson’s group, builders of the Vinewood line, gave the opposite impression. In any event it was decided that Baker was to be president and supervisor of operations for the new consolidated line. [27]

A reorganization committee of Wilson, Myers, and Sunny was appointed by the syndicate. The executive committee included these three men and John Mulvane, and Edward Wilder. This seemed to confirm the opinion that the owners of the Vinewood line--Wilson’s group--had control of the operation and were exerting a major influence on developments. This conclusion was re-enforced when it was announced that the syndicate would rebuild the entire old city line to meet construction standards of the Vinewood branch of the consolidated railway. [28]

A SUBURBAN LINE: The railway line had always been a source of pride for Topekans. When, on March 28, 1889, electric car service was introduced to the city, the Topeka Rapid Transit system was the largest electric railroad in the world.* Now the syndicate planned to restore this former glory.

[*Although this claim has been made repeatedly in the press, the 1890 Census of Street Railways, by U. S. Department of Commerce, places Topeka Rapid Transit Co. among the five largest systems in the nation, in every department, miles of track, investment and power plant.]

Fifteen new cars were ordered for delivery in the fall of 1903. Old rails and ties were removed from Kansas Avenue in preparation for new and better equipment. The work produced some unhappy patrons. “The public is complaining about the miserable service and we are ashamed to offer it to them,” Myers said as he prepared to leave for Chicago. “Some of the old cars will be furnished with new equipment, however, and we will endeavor to give the very best service we can until the new tracks are all laid. [29]

A successful building program could lead to a great future Topekans were told. “The present Vinewood road will become the nucleus of a suburban system of railways eventually.” Myers said, contradicting a previously held position. However, reconstruction of the city railway was all the syndicate could contemplate at the time. “This job is all we can handle now and if people would ask us to build a suburban line to a place where there were one million people we could not consider it.” [30]

This interest in interurban lines is not surprising. Myers made this statement against a background of almost unbelievable optimism concerning the future of the electric railway, when, as one pair of writers said, “the statement of 1903 that interurbans were ‘the latest harbingers of a higher state of civilization’ was in no way exceptional.” [31] The period 1901 - 1904 was the first of two periods when these railways expanded most rapidly and absorbed more investment capital than any other American industry. [32]

Secondly, it should be noted that the interurban came late to the country’s central area. One successful line, the Kansas City-Leavenworth Railway, was completed in 1900. No other local lines were built until 1907, when the Strang line completed it’s construction from Kansas City to Olathe, Kansas. [33] The "harhbingers of a higher state of civilization" had not penetrated deeply in to the Heart of America in 1903.

 

Myer’s caution against expecting too much immediately was spoken during a financial panic. The business depression delayed reconstruction of the Topeka Railway Co., by making rails and ties scarce and by delaying delivery on new equipment. Heavy rails and a devastating flood added to construction costs and contributed to the delay. [34] However, work did continue under severe handicaps. A machine shop and foundry was under construction during the summer. [35]

Business improved in 1904. “Topeka’s building boom goes steadily on,” the CAPITAL reported. “Business houses and residences are going up in various parts of the city, and before next fall the change will be marked.” [36]

Marking the change were, among other properties, the attractive new barns, shops, and offices of the Topeka Railway Company on Jackson Street between Eleventh and Thirteenth. The new buildings were, as the CAPITAL proclaimed, “a great credit to the city,” Erected at a cost of $40,000, they allowed for growth and development. “The time will come,” the CAPITAL said, “when all the room will be needed.” [37]

MEN, RAILWAYS, AND POWER–
Some connecting links. Topeka was booming when the Railway Company completed it’s construction and reconstruction work. The Railway Company was organized for expansion, for building and rebuilding. It was not to be expected that this group would cease functioning when it had finished it’s work of rebuilding the street railway lines. Myers, Sunny, and Wilson were builders; some of their associates were bankers and financiers; some were attorneys skilled in organizing and reorganizing utility companies. Expansion and change was the group’s primary work. Patten, Kelley, Joab Mulvane, and Edward Wilder were utility operators, prepared to see that the organization and plant wrought by other men were effective and efficient.

The Topeka Edison Company. Preparations for the change were underway almost as soon as the lighting franchise was granted on July 14, 1905. The syndicate expanded it’s interests when some of the men purchased the Illuminating Company. A month later, August 16, a new corporation, The Topeka Edison Company, was chartered. Three days later, a second Topeka Edison Company replacing the first one was chartered so the new institution could, if it desired, provide light, heat, and power “within or without the corporate limits” of the city.

Concurrently, the directors Sunny Myers, Wilson, Caldwell, Taylor, Kelley, Patten, Maunsell and Purdy – met to organize draft by laws, and transact other business. Topeka’s lighting and street railway businesses were merged in fact if not in name.

A week later, on August 31, the stockholders of Topeka Edison met to consider the advisability of borrowing $1,250,000 and issuing bonds of the Company to acquire the properties of the Illuminating Company and other properties necessary to carry on the corporate business successfully. At the same time, the directors of the Illuminating Company met and resigned to be replaced by the railway men, Maunsell, and Purdy. The new directors sold the Illuminating Company to Topeka Edison for $1,000,000 in stock, $250,000 in cash, and other properties. [38] Thus, the city’s first successful electrical plant disappeared in the interests of power and railway line council gave the new management full cooperation in putting the line back into operation. By August trains were running on schedule again but during the following winter traffic fell off to such a degree that, except for an occasional chartered trip, passenger service was discontinued. A dummy engine continued to haul stone from Ament’s quarries.


REFERENCES

18 The Topeka Daily Capital, Sep 10, 1902
19 The Topeka Daily Capital, Sep 25, 1902
20 The Topeka Daily Capital, Oct 18, 1902. Apparently the plan included the purchase of independent lines, particularly the City Railway which was the largest line not under Wilson and Myer’s control.
21 The Topeka Daily Capital, Oct 31, 1902
22 The Topeka Daily Capital, Nov 2, 1902
23 The Topeka Daily Capital, Mar 19, 1903
24 The Topeka Daily Capital, Mar 27, 1903
25 The Topeka Daily Capital, Apr 1, 1903
26 The Topeka Daily Capital, Apr 2, 1903
27 The Topeka Daily Capital, Apr 9, 1903
28 The Topeka Daily Capital, Apr 11, 1903
29 The Topeka Daily Capital, May 1, 1903
30 The Topeka Daily Capital, May 2, 1903
31 George W. Hilton and John F. Due, The Electric Interurban Railways to America p. 44.
32 Ibid., p. 3. The first period of rapid growth came to a close with the panic of 1903. The second period of unusual growth, 1905-1908, closed with the panic of 1907.
33 Ibid., pp. 365-368, The Kansas City-Leavenworth Railway was sold in 1905 and renamed the Kansas City Western. No interurban lines were ever built to or from Topeka.
34 Shipments of rails were routed during a flood until they became lost; railroad companies used ties en route to Topeka. See The Topeka Daily Capital, June 27 and 30, 1903.
35 The Topeka Daily Capital, July 9, 1903
36 The Topeka Daily Capital, May 15, 1904
37 Ibid.
38 This section was constructed from the minutes of both companies.

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Mission Statement

 

THE TOPEKA & VINEWOOD PARK
RAILWAY COMPANY

And it’s Consolidation with the
Topeka Railway Company

Dr. Edward G. Nelson
University of Kansas
(Pages 106-112 )

 

 

 

 

 

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Jewett car with cow catcher similar to Topeka's "Vinewood cars."
The foregoing has been excerpted with the author’s permission from the chapter “Railway Lines,” in Dr. Nelson’s book, “KPL IN KANSAS--A History of The Kansas Power & Light Company,” published in 1964 by the Center for Business Research, University of Kansas.

 

 

L. E. Meyers, left, with unidentified chauffeur, in the former’s new 24 h.p. Columbia, Mark XLI car. Meyers figured prominently in rebuilding Topeka & Vinewood Park Railway and in the reorganization of Topeka Railway Company.

 

 

 

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