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Eight years before the last stage pulled out of Atchison the agitation for a railroad began. The first charter provided for the construction of a railroad from Atchison to St. Joseph. As appeared in an earlier chapter, the city council of Atchison at its first meeting called an election on March 15, 1858, to vote on a proposition to subscribe for $100,000 in stock.

The election was held in the store of the Burnes Brothers, and S. H. Petefish, Charles E. Woolfolk, and Dr. C. A. Logan were judges of the election. The proposition carried almost unanimously, and, in addition to the stock subscribed for by the city, the citizens of the town subscribed for $100,000 in stock individually. The following May the contract for the construction of the road was awarded to Butcher, Auld & Dean at $3,700 per mile. There were fourteen other bidders. The members of the firm which made the successful bid were: Ephraim Butcher, David Auld, James Auld, and William Dean. Work of construction was started on May 12, 1858, but was not finished until February 22, 1860. The completion of this road to Atchison was of very far-reaching importance. The town was wild with excitement, for the new railroad gave the town its first direct rail connection with the east. Its terminus at Winthrop (East Atchison) was the first western point east of the Rocky mountains reached by a railroad at that time in the United States, save one. The first railroad built between the Mississippi and the Missouri rivers was the Hannibal & St. Joseph, which was completed to St. Joseph on February 23, 1859, and the new railroad from Atchison connected with the Hannibal & St. Joseph at the latter point.

Richard B. Morris was the first conductor of the Atchison road, and he subsequently became internal revenue collector of Kansas under Cleveland. Following the completion of the road, a great celebration was held at Atchison on June 13, 1860, and the people not only celebrated the completion of the St. Joseph line, but also the breaking of ground on the Atchison & Pike’s Peak railroad, now the Central Branch. Great preparations were made for the celebration weeks in advance and promptly following the hour of 12 o’clock on the morning of June 13, 1860, the firing of 100 guns at intervals began, which was kept up with monotonous regularity until daybreak. Flags and bunting fluttered from poles and windows throughout the city, and a special train of invited guests from the East arrived at Winthrop before noon with flags flying and bands playing. The passenger steamer, “Black Hawk,” loaded to the guards with citizens from Kansas City, reached Atchison early in the morning, and leading citizens also came from Wyandotte, Leavenworth, Lawrence, Topeka, and other towns. The city had been cleaned up and put in holiday attire by the city authorities. The town had never before presented such a gay appearance. Frank A. Root in his interesting book, “The Overland Stage to California,” who was present at the celebration, has perhaps written the most interesting account of this event that has ever been printed. He says:

“In the procession that formed along Second street, one of the unique and attractive features was a mammoth government wagon trimmed with evergreens and loaded with thirty-four girls dressed in white, representing every State in the Union and the Territory of Kansas. There were three other wagons filled with little girls similarly dressed, representing all the forty-one counties of Kansas in its last year of territorial existence.

“One of the contractors for government freighting had a huge prairie schooner, drawn by twenty-nine yoke of oxen, the head of each animal ornamented with a small flag, while he himself was mounted upon a mule. The contractor was quite an attraction, dressed in the peculiar western prairie and plains frontier cowboy costume with buckskin pants, red flannel shirt, boots nearly knee high, with revolver and bowie knife buckled around his waist, dangling by his side. The procession in line marched west along Commercial street to near Tenth. It was a long one and it was estimated that there were 7,000 people in it and at least 10,000 in the city witnessing the festivities. The ceremony of breaking ground for these two roads took place about noon, but there was nothing particularly imposing about it. The most important part of the ceremonies was the turning over of a few spadefuls of dirt by Col. Peter T. Abell, president of the road, and Capt. Eph. Butcher, the contractor, who built the Atchison & St. Joseph road. The event was witnessed by fully 5,000 people, after which the monster procession formed, and, headed by a brass band, and other bands at different places in the line marched across White Clay creek to the grove in the southwest part of the city, where the oration was delivered by Benj. F. Stringfellow. Following the oration, several speeches were made by the most prominent of the invited guests, one of them by Col. C. K. Holliday, of Topeka, one of the founders of the great Santa Fe system. The barbecue was an important feature of the affair. Six beeves, twenty hogs, and over fifty sheep, pigs, and lambs were roasted. There was also prepared more than one hundred boiled hams, several thousand loaves of bread, cakes by the hundred, besides sundry other delicacies to tickle the palate and help make the occasion one long to be remembered by all present. The exercises were quite elaborate and wound up with a ball in the evening at A. S. Parker’s hall on the west side of Sixth street, between Commercial and Main, and a wine supper in Charley Holbert’s building on Second street, just north of the Massasoit House. Many visitors came from a long distance east, some as far as New England. Most of the Northern States were represented, and a few came from the South. Free transportation was furnished to the invited guests. Hundreds came by rail and steamboat and many poured in from the surrounding country for miles, in wagons, and on horseback, from eastern Kansas and western Missouri.”

While a strong movement for the construction of railroads was started in 1860, it was soon discovered that much progress could not be made in the face of the unsettled conditions brought on by the Civil war, and, as a result a further effort in that direction, was, for the time being, abandoned. However, Luther C. Challiss did not give up his idea of projecting a road to the West, and to him more than to anybody else belongs the credit of starting the first road west out of Atchison. He obtained a charter for the building of the Atchison & Pike’s Peak railroad and this company was organized on February 11, 1859, but on account of the war was not opened to Waterville until January 20, 1868. Challiss obtained possession of 150,000 acres of land from the Kickapoo Indians by a treaty, and, upon the organization of the company he was elected president. The land he secured from the Indians was, for the most part, located in Atchison county, around Muscotah, and adjoining counties. With Mr. Challiss were associated Charles B. Keith, who was the agent of the Kickapoo Indians, George W. Glick and Senators Pomeroy and Lane. In the charter for this road, provision was made for its construction 100 miles west of Atchison. Col. William Osborn, who had constructed the west half of the Hannibal & St. Joseph railroad, built the first section of the Central Branch to Waterville. He named the town after his old home in New York, where he was born. It was proposed at this point to make a connection with a branch running from Kansas City to Ft. Kearney, Neb., but the Kansas City road was subsequently changed to Denver, and for this reason, it has been said the Central Branch was not completed to Denver, as originally planned.

The Atchison & Pike’s Peak Railroad Company was incorporated by a special act of the Territorial legislature of the Territory of Kansas, chapter 48, “Private Laws of Kansas, 1859,” and authorized to construct a railroad from Atchison to the western boundary of the Territory in the direction of Pike’s Peak. Subsequently, the Atchison & Pike’s Peak Railroad Company became the assignee of all the rights, privileges, and franchises of the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad Company, given and granted under an Act of Congress, of July 8, 1862, Twelfth Statute, page 489, entitled: “An Act to aid in the construction of a railroad and telegraph line from the Missouri river to the Pacific Ocean, and to secure to the government the use of same for postal, military and other purposes,” which provided that the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad Company might extend its road from St. Joseph via Atchison, to connect and unite with a railroad in Kansas, provided for in said Act, for one hundred miles in length next to the Missouri river, and might, for that purpose, use any railroad charter, which had, or might have been granted, by the legislature of Kansas. Accordingly, the work of construction from Atchison west was inaugurated under the name of the Atchison & Pike’s Peak Railroad Company. On January 1, 1867, by virtue of the laws of the State of Kansas, the name of Atchison & Pike’s Peak Railroad Company was changed to the Central Branch Union Pacific Railroad Company, and the latter company completed the railroad from Atchison to Waterville.



The first real move for the construction of a railroad from the Missouri river, west, resulted in a charter granted by the Territorial legislature to the St. Joseph & Topeka Railroad Company on February 20, 1857. Under the terms of the charter the road was to start from St. Joseph, Mo.; thence crossing the river through Doniphan, Atchison, and Jefferson counties to Topeka. The charter was subsequently amended and the road was extended in the direction of Santa Fe, N. M., to the southwestern line of Kansas, which is practically the same route now traversed by the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe railroad. The desire on the part of the people for a direct railroad connection with the Missouri river and the East gave to this movement great impetus, and there was considerable rivalry between the towns to offer aid and assistance. The people of Atchison were particularly anxious to make this town the terminal point and the future railway center of the great trans-continental system, and strongly opposed any project which would make Atchison simply a way station on the great road to the West. With a view to avert such action on the part of those behind the movement to construct this road, it was determined to make Atchison the eastern terminus of the same. Accordingly, Atchison loaned its credit to the amount of $150,000. by aid of which subsidy a direct road was built on the Missouri side of the river from St. Joseph and thence north under another charter with Atchison, Kan., instead of St. Joseph as the eastern terminus, the enterprise was carried on and as a result, the citizens of Kansas Territory were much elated with the added prestige of the railroad being a Kansas corporation. The Atchison & Topeka Railroad Company was incorporated by an Act of the legislature on February 11, 1859. Those named as the original incorporators were: S. C. Pomeroy, Atchison; C. K. Halliday, Topeka; Luther C. Challiss, Atchison; Peter T. Abell, Atchison; Aspah Allen, Topeka: Milton C. Dickey, Topeka; Samuel Dickson, Atchison; Wilson L. Gordon, Topeka; George S. Hillyer, Grasshopper Falls; Lorenzo D. Bird, Atchison; Jeremiah Marshall, Topeka; George H. Fairchild, Atchison; F. L. Crane, Topeka. The company was “authorized to survey, locate, construct, complete, alter, maintain and operate a railroad with one or more tracks from or near Atchison in Kansas Territory, to the town of Topeka, in Kansas Territory, and to such point on the southern or western boundary of said Territory in the direction of Santa Fe as may be convenient and suitable for the construction of said road and also to construct a branch to any point on the southern line of said Territory in the direction of the Gulf of Mexico.” The authorized capital stock was $1,500,000, and the first meeting for the organization under the charter was held at the office of Luther C. Challis in Atchison on September 15, 1859, at which meeting $52,000 of the first subscription of stock was paid, and the following directors were chosen: L. C. Challiss, George H. Fairchild, P. T. Abell, S. C. Pomeroy, L. D. Bird, C. K. Halliday, F. L. Crane, E. G. Ross, Joel H. Huntoon, M. C. Dickey, Jacob Safford, R. H. Weightman, and J. H. Stringfellow. The officers were: C. K. Holliday, president; P. T. Abell, secretary; M. C. Dickey, treasurer. It will be seen that the majority of the incorporators and of the officers were citizens of Atchison, and it is an important fact in the history of Kansas that Atchison county played such an important part in the organization and construction of the first railroad lines in the State. Had it not been for the terrible drought of 1860, which totally paralyzed all classes of business, the work of constructing this road immediately following its organization would have gone forward, but the famine which followed the drought was so complete and so widely distributed throughout the State and the western country as to almost destroy the farming interests. During this period the directors of the road decided to press the claims of Kansas for a national subsidy for the construction of railroads, and President C. K. Holliday, with a number of his associates, spent much time in Washington during 1859 and 1860. Their work was not in vain, for on March 3, 1863, Congress made a grant of land to the State of Kansas, giving alternate sections one mile square and ten in width, amounting to 6,400 acres per mile, on condition that the Atchison-Topeka road should be finished on or before 1873. The State accepted the grant and transferred it to this road February 9, 1864. It was in October, 1868, almost ten years after the date that the first charter was granted to this road that work of construction was begun in Topeka. The road was first built in a southerly direction so as to reach the coal region in Osage county. It was opened to Carbondale, eighteen miles from Topeka, in July, 1869, and reached Wichita, 163 miles from Topeka, in May, 1872, and at about the same time in 1872 the road was completed from Topeka to Atchison, a distance of fifty-one miles.



On May 5, 1867, the charter for the Atchison & Nebraska City Railroad Company was filed in the office of the secretary of State of the State of Kansas. The original incorporators of this road were Peter T. Abell, George W. Glick, Alfred G. Otis, John M. Price, W. W. Cochrane, Albert H. Horton, Samuel A. Kingman, J. T. Hereford and Augustus Byram, all of whom were citizens of Atchison. The charter provided for the construction of a railroad from “some point in the city of Atchison to some point on the north line of the State of Kansas, not farther west than twenty-five miles from the Missouri river, and the length of the proposed railroad will not exceed forty-five miles.” Shortly after the road was incorporated the name was changed to the Atchison & Nebraska Railroad Company, and under this name subscriptions in bonds and capital stock were made in Atchison and Doniphan counties. Atchison county subscribed for $150,000, and in addition to the subscription of the county there were individual subscriptions amounting to $80,000 in the county. Work was commenced on the road in 1869, and it was completed in 1871 to the northern boundary of Doniphan county, three miles north of Whitecloud. The stockholders of Atchison graded the road bed to the State line, constructed bridges and furnished the ties, after which the entire property was given to a Boston syndicate in consideration of the completion and operation of the road. This railroad was afterwards consolidated with the Atchison, Lincoln & Columbus Railroad Company of Nebraska, which road had been authorized to construct a railroad from the northern terminal point of the Atchison & Nebraska railroad to Columbus, on the Union Pacific railroad, by way of Lincoln, and the road was completed to Lincoln in the fall of 1872. This consolidated road was purchased by the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad Company in 1880.



This road was organized by articles of association filed in the office of the Secretary of the State of Kansas September 21, 1867, and March 25, 1868, and the Missouri River Railroad Company by articles of association filed February 20, 1865, and the construction of the Leavenworth, Atchison & Northwestern railroad was commenced at Leavenworth in March, 1869, and completed to Atchison in September, 1869. The stock held in the company by Leavenworth county, aggregating $500,000, was donated to this road to aid in its extension to Atchison, and the first train into Atchison arrived in the latter part of 1869. It was not until July, 1882, however, that the first train was run through from Atchison to Omaha over the line of the Missouri Pacific railroad, which subsequently absorbed the Leavenworth, Atchison & Northwestern Railroad Company.



The Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railway Company was one of the last of the railroads to make connection with Atchison. This line was originally projected to Leavenworth, but reached Atchison shortly after. The construction of the Atchison branch was begun in 1872, and in July of that year the first train was run into the city.

All of these roads having been organized and constructed and in operation, the next movement that took place in transportation circles was the erection of the bridge across the Missouri river, work upon which was commenced in August, 1874, and completed in July, 1875. This bridge is 1,182 feet long and the stone for the piers and abutments upon which it rests was taken from the quarries at Cottonwood Falls, Chase county. It was originally built by the American Bridge Company of Chicago, and was rebuilt entirely new, except for the piers, in 1898. Shortly after the erection of the bridge, connecting Missouri with Kansas at Atchison, the first railroad depot was built upon the site of the present union station, which was completed and dedicated September 7, 1880. There was a great deal of discussion as to the proper location of a depot before the building was finally erected, and it was through the efforts of the Burneses that its location on Main street, between Second and Fourth street, was selected. The capital stock of the original Depot Company was $100,000,000, of which the railroad companies then entering the city subscribed for $70,000. The balance of the stock was taken by individuals. The cost of the original depot was $120,000, and the architect was William E. Taylor, who planned the old union station in Kansas City. James A. McGonigle, who was the contractor for the old Kansas City station, also built the Atchison union depot. It was built of the finest pressed brick from St. Louis, and trimmed with cut stone from the Cottonwood Falls quarries. Its length was 235 feet, with an “L” ninety-six feet long. It was two stories high with a mansard roof. It was an ornamental, and, in those days, an imposing structure. The ceremonies accompanying its dedication were witnessed by a great crowd, and many great men in the railroad and political life of Kansas participated in them. Gen. Benjamin F. Stringfellow delivered the address, and a banquet was served in the evening, followed by a procession and fire-works. Two years later, in June, 1882, this depot was partially destroyed by fire, suffering a loss of $10,000, but it was immediately rebuilt. On January 6, 1888, another fire completely destroyed the building, and the present union station was erected a short time later.



On and after Monday, February 28, this road will be open for business throughout its entire length. Passenger trains will leave St. Joseph for Hannibal every morning, making close connection with steam packets to St. Louis and Quincy, and affording direct connection with all the railroads east of the Mississippi river. Time from St. Joseph to Hannibal, eleven hours, and to St. Louis, eighteen hours, saving more than three days over any other route. Trains from the east will arrive in St. Joseph every evening, connecting with a daily line of packets running between St. Joseph and Kansas City; also a line up the Missouri to the Bluffs. Passengers from all parts of Kansas will find this the quickest and most agreeable route to St. Louis and all points on the Mississippi, giving those going east a choice between the routes from St. Louis, Alton and Quincy. Fare will be as low as by any other route. Favorable arrangements will be made for taking freight, saving most of the heavy insurance on the Missouri river. Express freight will be taken through much quicker than by any other line.

Tickets can be had at the office in St. Joseph for nearly all parts of the country.


P. B. GROAT, Gen’l. Ticket Ag’t. Feb. 1st, 1859.

no. 48–lm.

(From _Freedom’s Champion_, Atchison, February 12, 1859.)




Passengers for St. Louis, northern Missouri, Iowa, Chicago, Cincinnati, Detroit, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, New Orleans, Louisville and Southern States, will find this the shortest, quickest and most desirable route to the above points. On the 1st day of February only fifteen miles of staging intervenes between St. Joseph and Hannibal, and on the 1st day of March, 1859, the road will be completed, and open for through travel the entire length. A daily line of stages from Atchison, passing through Doniphan and Geary City, connects at St. Joseph with the H. & St. Jo. railroad. From Hannibal a daily line of packets leave upon arrival of cars for St. Louis, upon the opening of navigation, and boats connect at Quincy with the C. B. & Q. railroad for Chicago, and with the G. W. railroad for Toledo via Naples. This is in every respect the best route for eastern and southern passengers. Trains leave St. Joseph for the east daily.


P. B. GROAT, General Ticket Agent.

(no. 47) (From _Freedom’s Champion_, Atchison, February 12, 1859.)



It was a little over six months after the completion of the Atchison & St. Joseph railroad that the first telegraph connection was established between Atchison and the world. The construction of the Missouri & Western telegraph line was begun in Syracuse, Mo., in 1859. Charles M. Stebbins built this telegraph line, which extended from Syracuse to Ft. Smith, Ark. A branch of this line was extended westward to Kansas City, and reached Leavenworth along in the spring of 1859. August 15, 1859, this branch was extended to Atchison, and it was a proud day in the history of this city. The first office was in a brick building on Commercial street adjoining the office of _Freedom’s Champion_. John T. Tracy was the first operator. Gen. Samuel C. Pomeroy was mayor, and on this account the honor was given him of sending the first message, which was as follows: “Atchison, August 15, 1859. His Honor, H. B. Denman, Mayor of Leavenworth. Our medium of communication is perfect. May our fraternal relations continue—may our prosperity and success equal our highest efforts. S. C. Pomeroy, Mayor of Atchison.” Mayor Denman replied as follows: “Hon. S. C. Pomeroy, Mayor of Atchison. May each push forward its works of enterprise and the efforts of each be crowned with success. H. B. Denman, Mayor of Leavenworth.” Congratulations were next exchanged between Atchison and St. Louis, as follows: “Atchison, August 15, 1859. Hon. O. D. Filley, Mayor of St. Louis. For the first time since the world began, a telegraph message is sent to St. Louis from this place, the farthest telegraph station in the West. Accept our congratulations and aid us in our progress westward. S. C. Pomeroy, Mayor of Atchison.” It was in October of that same year that the first news was flashed over the wire telling of the capture of Harper’s Ferry by old John Brown.

In connection with the question of early day transportation in Atchison county, it would be an oversight to fail to mention the efforts of one Thomas L. Fortune to improve the means of locomotion. Mr. Fortune was a citizen of Mt. Pleasant, and in the fall of 1859 he conceived the scheme which he believed would revolutionize the whole transportation problem. He planned a steam wagon with which he expected to haul freight across the plains. The following year he built at St. Louis, a large vehicle, twenty feet long by eight feet wide. The wheels were twenty inches wide and eight feet in diameter. This wagon was transported up the Missouri river to Atchison from St. Louis on the steamer, “Meteor,” and was landed from the steamer in front of the White Mice saloon, which was a noted resort on the Atchison levee at that time, in the latter part of June, 1860. The following account is taken from Frank A. Root’s “Overland Stage to California”:

A day or two after its arrival (referring to Fortune’s wagon) Mr. Root says that it was arranged that the steam wagon should make a trial trip on the Fourth of July. The monster was accordingly fired up on the eighty-fourth National anniversary and started by an engineer named Callahan. The wagon was ornamented with a number of flags and loaded with a crowd of anxious men and boys. When everything was in readiness the valve was opened and the wagon moved off in a southerly direction from the levee. It went all right until it reached the foot of Commercial street, about a square away. The pilot failing to turn the machine, it kept on straight up to the sidewalk and ran into A. S. Parker’s warehouse, which stood so many years by the old historic cottonwood tree at the southeast corner of Commercial street and the levee. The result of this awkward blunder was an accident, in which a son of the owner of the wagon had an arm broken, as the machine crashed into the side of the building, which was a long, one-story frame cottonwood structure that for a number of years was a noted landmark in Atchison. The excited engineer was at once let out and Lewis Higby, another engineer, and a natural genius, was sent for. Higby mounted the wagon and took his place at the engine, backed the machine out into the middle of the road and in a few minutes went sailing gracefully along west on Commercial street at about six miles per hour. When in front of Jesse Crall’s stable at the corner of Sixth street, before that part of Commercial street had been graded, it went down a little hill at a lively speed, but Higby kept it going and did not stop until it reached L. C. Challiss’ addition, just south and west from Commercial and Eighth streets, near Morgan Willard’s old foundry, built in 1859, away from the business and residence portion of the city.

After the wagon crossed Eighth street and was beyond the business houses, Higby turned on more steam, and the monster vehicle made about eight miles an hour, cavorting around on the bottom, there being only a few scattering buildings then west of Eighth street. To test the practicability of the machine, it was run into hollows and gullies, and, where the ground was soft it was found that the ponderous wheels would sink into the mud when standing still in soft ground. The result of the trial, witnessed by hundreds, was disappointing to most of those present. The inventor, who had spent a large amount of money and much time in trying to perfect his steam wagon and solve the overland transportation problem, was the worst disappointed. He was thoroughly disgusted. He saw at once that the use of the vehicle was impracticable and that it would never answer the purpose. That trial trip was the first and only one the “overland steam wagon” ever made. It was accordingly abandoned on the bottom where the tracks of the Central Branch and Santa Fe roads are now laid and was never afterwards fired up. Those who had crossed the plains with mules and oxen knew it could never be used in overland freighting. There was no use for any such vehicle and the anticipated reduction in prices of ox and mule teams did not take place. The timbers used in the framework of the machine that were not stolen finally went to decay, and the machinery was afterwards taken out and disposed of for other purposes.



The propitious beginning that Atchison had as a commercial and transportation center should have made the town one of the largest and most important railroad terminals in the West. That was the hope and aspiration of its original founders, and for many years afterwards it was a cherished idea. But Kansas City was subsequently selected as the point of vantage, and the builders of this great western empire have since centralized their activities at the mouth of the “Kaw,” and it is there that the metropolis of the West will be built. However, a marvelous development has taken place here since the day of the Holladay and Butterfield stage lines and slow-moving ox and mule trains across the plains. We no longer marvel at the volume of trade and freight tonnage and the multitude of travelers that pass through Atchison every year. We take these things as a matter of course, and make no note of the daily arrival and departure of the fifty-six passenger trains at our union depot every day; we marvel not at the speed and the ease and comfort with which we can make the trip to St. Louis or Chicago, overnight, or to Denver in less than twenty-four hours, or to New York in two and one-half days, and to San Francisco in less than five, surrounded by every luxury money can buy. We have accustomed ourselves to these marvels, just as we have learned to make use of the telephone and the telegraph, and a little later on will begin to use the airship and the wireless. Nature has a way of easily adjusting mankind to these changed conditions.