Had it not been for the enterprise of Col. John W. Hartzell in uniting North and South Topeka through his omnibus service, the newly formed City Railway Company of which Hartzell was the prime organizer, might have died aborning.

On September 7, 1880, Hartzell who had been confined to his home with illness for several weeks, learned that a group of Colorado capitalists had petitioned the Topeka city council, just the night before, for exclusive right to operate the city’s first street car line. The petition which had come as a complete surprise to all Topekans, was filed under the name of The Topeka Street Railway Company. The councilmen looked favorably on the petition, the only one of it’s kind before them, and referred it to the street committee for study. One of the most convincing arguments advanced by the Colorado group was in the form of a free will offering of $2,000, payable upon delivery of the requested franchise. The State Journal gave it’s endorsement to the proposition in a front page editorial, Sept. 8, 1880:

---Now a company of gentlemen are agitating the [street railway] matter, who say they mean business. No foolishing this time. All they ask is a grant of right of way for 21 years and they will construct a line just like the city wants. The gentlemen who are proposing this enterprise have the means to act, and they are considered responsible.

At the time, Hartzell was associated with seven other prominent Topekans, in the planning of a similar street railway system, and were readying their petition for a petition for a franchise. At the next meeting of the city council, Hartzell, leaving his sick bed, appeared in person at the meeting with a petition for an exclusive franchise in the name of the home-owned city Railway Company. The street committee now had two applications for consideration. Undoubtedly the committee was impressed by the names of the incorporators of the local incorporation. the list could have been lifted from Who’s Who in Topeka.

Fry W. Giles, president, Topeka State Bank, Edward Wilder secretary-treasurer, A.T.& S.F. RR.Co.; Jonathan Thomas, lumber dealer and bank official; J.L. Shellabarger, Shawnee Flour Mills; Peter McVicar, president, Washburn College; Theodore Terry, president, Topeka Mining Stock Exchange; E. Cliff Devereux, agent, Kansas Pacific R.R. Co.

The list of the incorporators also impressed the editor of the State Journal who on Sept. 14, did an about face, notifying readers (and the city council):

A street railway company composed of solid citizens of this city presented a petition to the council last evening. The street committee had previously recommended the petition of another company but the council postponed action on it. It is earnestly hoped that this measure [of the local company] will meet with favorable consideration of the council. –

The city council promptly– too promptly, many charged – granted the exclusive right to operate street cars on the main thoroughfares of Topeka, but Mayor Milton Case, upon advice of city Attorney John Guthrie, refused to sign the ordinance at that time. Guthrie, who was later to become a distinguished judge of the district court, warned the council that the day would come when the city would regret the council’s hasty action in giving exclusive rights to any one transit company. His foresight was recalled eight years later when modern, electric trolley cars were forced to use side streets while the old fashioned horse cars maintained their right of way along the entire length of Kansas avenue.

While the mayor deliberated, the local press, unanimous in support of the City Railway, repeated reminding the mayor of the integrity of the home-owned system. But it may have been the Journal’s tributes to Col. Hartzell that scored with the mayor, and prompted his signature on Nov. 16, 1880, to make the ordinance official. The Journal on several occasions, pointed out that it was Hartzell who, several years before, established a ten-cent omnibus service between North and South Topeka, thus saving commuters fifteen cents over the usual hack fare.

Less than a month after the franchise had been awarded to the City Railway, another prominent Topekan, Joab Mulvane, purchased a substantial amount of the company’s stock, and was elected president. He held that office until the company was sold, at a huge profit, in 1887. Owner of numerous tracts of city and suburban real estate, the possibilities of the new street railway system were of particular interest to Mulvane.

Col. Hartzell, a director in the company and superintendent of operations, assisted by Col. Joel Huntoon, a civil engineer, drew plans for the right of way construction, and supervised that phase of the building. The rails were furnished and laid by Hathaway & Robinson, Cleveland, street railway contractors. The first section of the system extended from Tenth & Kansas Avenue to Fifth Street, then east to the Santa Fe depot.

Two hundred tons of scrap stone, purchased from the contractor who was building the state capital, were purchased for ballast. Another fifty tons came from the contractor building the new post office.

Construction finally started during the first week of April, 1881, at the Santa Fe depot end of the line. On April 7 the Capital reported:

Business is lively about the Santa Fe depot. The large area in front of the passenger depot is being macadamized a foot in depth, and the street car company is grading their line at Fifth Street. The number of persons engaged in various lines of labor is equaled only by the number looking at them.

While a crew of fifty men and twenty teams of horses were rushing construction along East Fifth Street, a masonry crew was just as busily engaged in erecting a barn for the live stock and cars on the north-east corner of Tenth and Jackson, once the diminutive campus of Lincoln College. The building was two story 60 x 100 ft. (40 ft., added later) of native stone. The second story was mostly used as a hay loft.

On May 7 the Capital reported that grading for the street railway had been completed from the Santa Fe Depot to the car barns on Tenth Street, but the rails had not yet arrived. The grading crew had been sent to work on the section connecting the Kansas Pacific depot in North Topeka, with the junction at Fifth and


Kansas Avenue. On June 2, the Journal’s progress report said that both sections of the system would that day be connected at Fifth Street, and cars would be running within a few days.

The long awaited good tidings appeared on page one of the Journal, June 6, 1881.


Four cars for the street line of railway arrived this morning. They are beauties and will be seen sailing along Kansas Avenue in a few days, the object of constant admiration. the cars are the latest pattern [sic] and contain all the conveniences for comfort, durability and ease.

They are medium size cars, will carry 16 people, and are beautifully finished. Our citizens will walk no more, especially when they can ride all over town for a nickel. The cars were unloaded this afternoon, and one or two of them will be started tomorrow morning from the Santa Fe depot, running to Tenth street.

The next day, June 7, a Journal headline proclaimed: “THE GREAT DAY HAS FINALLY ARRIVED.” Manager Hartzell that day placed two cars in service between Tenth and Kansas Avenue and the Santa Fe depot, as promised. “the jingle of that little [horse car] bell sounds big and looming like.”

Due to a flaw in the company’s application for a corporation charter, a new application was filed August 8, 1881, with the secretary of state, under the new name of The Topeka City Railway. The new application revealed that W.B. Strong and Dr. D. W. Stormont had replaced J. Thomas and MacVicar as directors. Before the end of the year John Hartzell resigned as superintendent in favor of Jesse Shaw. The press hinted that the directors looked with disfavor on Hartzell’s other interests which had demanded much of his time--Hartzell’s Grove (later Garfield Park), the Topeka Omnibus Company, and a stable of race horses--and had demanded his resignation.

From the very first day of it’s operation, Topeka’s one and only street car system was patronized to a far greater extent than it’s management had anticipated. Operating profits were turned back into additional equipment. Kansas Avenue was double-tracked, eliminating frequent delays at passing switches. Everything looked rosy until the morning of October 21, 1881, less than five months after the line had been placed in operation, when a devastating fire broke out in the car and horse barn. The evening Journal of that date was first with the story:


Destruction of Street Railway Stables by Fire.
Everything burned, Including Twenty-eight Horses.

Between three and four o’clock this morning the terrible cry of fire rang out on the dismal night winds and startled the quietly sleeping city. The trouble was soon discovered to be the street car company’s stables on West Tenth Street. The fire department was out and at the scene of the fire promptly, but too late to save more than the bare stone walls of the building. When they arrived the whole interior of the structure was a mass of liquid flames, leaping, writhing, hissing and curling in their serpentine rage of destruction. There, fastened in the midst of that read sea were twenty-eight horses and mules rearing and pitching in their agonies.

The origin of the calamity is undoubtedly the work of an incendiary. The loss will amount to near $10,000, of which there is $3,500 insurance. The average value of the horses is estimated at $115 each; six cars cost $700 each; two cars, $850 each; the loss of hay, grain and harness will bring the total up to the amount stated.

During the week that followed, six new cars were ordered from the factory in St. Louis, and work was started clearing the debris preparatory to rebuilding the barn, with an additional forty-foot frontage along Tenth street. A street car company in Kansas City (Mo.) shipped two cars to Topeka, for temporary use, about which the Journal itemed: “---They are summer cars, and are drawn by two small mules. The mules are said to be better than houses for that sort of work. No change in fare. Any part of the city for five cents.”

Possibly because of the scarcity of suitable horses, the City Railway, after the fire, switched to mule power, and continued to use mules until the summer of 1887. During that month the company without any explanation, announced that first class horses would replace it's mules, and ran advertisements in the papers:

HORSES WANTED -- City Railway wants fifty good blocky horses immediately. Must be in good flesh and perfectly sound; to weigh between 1050 and 1100 lbs., and with good style. Call at street car barns on Tenth Street.

During the first year or so Topekans thoroughly enjoyed the convenience and novelty of their new street railway. Eventually, fault-finders wrote letters to the papers. The outlandish ten-cent fare, authorized after 10 P.M., came in for much criticism. A weekly journal, the Saturday Lance commented on June 30, 1883, “Only one passenger to three cars going south Thursday night after the theater. Ten cents don’t take well with the people. At five cents the cars would have been full.”

Following the publication of a letter in the Capital, which accused street car drivers of inattentiveness, the Lance came to their defense:

We read “a Sufferer’s” article in the Capital, and wept scalding tears for the poor street car drivers and their mules. It is impossible, I know, and “sufferer” should know, for ordinary men to see both sides of the street and straight ahead, all at once. And as long as the company expects a driver to collect fares, keep a register and arrange his own time table and attend to the motive power [horses or mules], the citizens must expect to be slighted unless they can jump on while the car is running at the rate of five miles per hour. What the company needs most now is cross-eyed drivers so they can watch both sides of the street at once, for passengers.

An editorial in the Journal, October 21, took the City Railway to task for failing to provide sufficient horsepower, literally, on a certain steep grade: “--The horses--are overtaxed drawing heavily loaded cars up the incline from Second to Fifth on the avenue.

Yesterday many men got out and walked up the hill through sympathy for the horses. The company ought to supply an extra horse or two to help draw cars up the hill.” (Note. A few weeks later a team of mules was regularly stationed at the foot of the hill to furnish additional motive power.)

The Journals’s foregoing editorial reciting the shortcomings of the City Railway was not limited to it’s quadrupeds. Continuing, it took up the welfare of the drivers:

The order requiring street car drivers of the city railway to stand on their feet for sixteen and one-half hours a day, almost at a stretch for seven days in the week, is we believe, one worthy of condemnation by all who sympathize with the hard working classes. The Journal is always ready to take the side of the oppressed, and we believe the street car drivers are shamefully mistreated. The very thin excuse is made that the drivers will not object to standing sixteen hours when they get used to it. They say a horse will not object to living on wood shavings when he gets used to it, but then he is liable to die before the custom is thoroughly established in his digestive system.

Will our readers look for a moment at the work a street car driver must do. On duty at 5:53 A.M. till noon, then forty minutes for dinner and then constantly on his feet again until 10:53 P.M., except twenty minutes for supper.

He must watch his team, see that all fares are paid, act as a conductor, driver, and be constantly on a strain to do his duties properly and serve the public and the company. Every day including Sundays he works sixteen hours and forty minutes except every third day when he gets a respite of eleven hours. (Note: Horses were worked no longer than four hours out of twenty-four; in summer, three hour shifts. Ed, Bulletin).

He is paid $35 to $40 a month. The order removing the stools was a heartless one, and we have no doubt that winter not at hand, the drivers would have left their posts, and they would have been justified in doing nothing else. A slight boon to the car driver is a stool upon which he may rest occasionally.

Two weeks later the company reluctantly installed swing-out seats for drivers on all cars.

During its first three years, City Railway built extensions from Gordon Street in North Topeka to Hartzell’s Grove (Garfield Park); West Tenth and West Sixth lines to the city limits; along Topeka Avenue south to the Fair Grounds, and a line to Washburn College via Huntoon and College Avenues, which was ready for the opening of the fall term, 1884.

The announcement made early in 1887 the proposed Topeka Rapid Transit Company, with it's steam motors, better known as dummy engines, promoted the City Railway to reveal plans “which have been under consideration for a long time.” Company officials reported they had been studying several “modern” types of motive power including storage batteries, compress air and cables. A decision would be forthcoming soon.

If City Railway directors were seriously considering modern ization, they were at the same time, quietly in negotiation for the sale of the company. The sale took place May 18, 1887, to the Boston Syndicate, a group of eastern capitalists which had during the spring of that year, bought or obtained options on several thousand acres of farmland just west of Topeka. It was the Syndicate’s plan to develop a gigantic suburban community for which rail transportation would be a necessity.

For the purchase price of approximately $200,000, the City Railway Company turned over to the Syndicate ten miles of track, thirty cars, 110 head of horses and mules, and the huge stable on West Tenth. But far more valuable than all the physical property combined, was the exclusive franchise to operate on Kansas avenue and other choice traffic ways. In 1892 the Syndicate merged City Railway with three other local lines it had purchased--Topeka Rapid Transit, West Side Circle and Topeka Belt--into a single corporation, The Topeka Rail Company. Within three years from that date practically every mile of the system had been electrified.

The North Topeka Mail reported, April 21, 1893, that only one horse car was then in operation in North Topeka--a shuttle car operating between the Union Pacific station and Garfield Park. It made the round trip in twenty minutes. On June 9, the Mail proudly announced that “electrics” were now available for through service between Garfield Park and Quinton Heights (24th & Clay). The editor of the Mail had timed the electric from his office at 817 N. Kansas Avenue, to the transfer station, Eight & Kansas, at eight minutes flat, as opposed to twenty minutes via horse car.

It is believed that the last horse cars in local service were two on a shuttle connecting the trolley line terminal at Sixth and West (now Washburn Avenue), and the state Hospital, via Franklin Avenue and The Drive. The shuttle was discontinued May 31, 1896, when a new trolley line extension was put into operation to the State Hospital via Potwin Place station, Willow and Elmwood Avenues.

The delay of three years in replacing the horse cars to the State Hospital was occasioned by a franchise dispute between Topeka Railway and the city council of Potwin Place, over the route. The complete story was reported in our BULLETIN No. 45, (Potwin Place Issue) December, 1968, “The Trolley War.”


The JOURNAL, Aug 23, 1889--The conductors on Rapid Transit trains have decorated their cars with sunflowers--a bunch of stalks fastened to each platform, giving cars a gay and “picnic” appearance.


It was not a happy time for horses. The JOURNAL on May 20, 1892 said a horse was frightened to death on Kline St. by the electric cars. He pitched and plunged and fell dead. The driver was on his way to “procure a marriage license.” On the same day a City Railway horse “laid down and died,” tired of waiting for electrical equipment.





Mission Statement


The Horse Car Line –

John W. Ripley
Pages 19 - 30
















Above photo not enlargable. Below photo enlargable--click on photol
Above and below: Horse cars along Kansas Avenue, as seen by an artist for "Topeka Illustrated." published in 1887. The vjiew is looking north from Ninth and Kansas Avenue. Steam dummy trains which made their debut here in 1887, were obliged to use Quincy and Jackson streets because of City Railway's exclusive franchise to operate on Kansas Avenue.


6th & Kan. Avenue, terminal of West 6th line.






Opinion Polls & Surveys











click photos to enlarge

Destined for Topeka, a shiny new horse car was photographed at the manufacturer's plant in St. Louis before loading on a freight car. Photo, courtesy St. Louis Car Division, General Steel Company, St. Louis, Mo.


Paving operations along Kansas Avenue during the 1880's often interrupted the leisurely progress of horse cars. This photo, from Kansas State Historical Society, shows the east side of the avenue, between Fourth and Fifth.
click below photo to enlarge