No single force was so important to the development of the American West than the railroad industry. By the middle of the 19th century, the nation’s lawmakers realized that the development of a network of railroads across America would hasten the economic and political development of the land west of the Mississippi River. Several pieces of legislation including the Pacific Railroad Act of 1862 and the revised Railroad Act of 1864, created a system of land grants to the railroads which ceded millions of acres of land along their routes when completed. Railroad companies, in turn, created towns and operated land companies, developing the West.
Railroad companies proliferated in America in the 1870s as tens of thousands of railways incorporated, all hoping to lay tracks and operate railroads. It was, however, a complicated path to success for the fledgling railways. First, they had to get approval from the Kansas Legislature with a recommendation from the Kansas Railroad Commission to incorporate a railroad in the state. Then, railroads had to acquire bond commitments from all of the counties through which the proposed line would be laid. Those bonds had to be acquired by voter approval in every county through which the line ran, and stock had to be sold or financing acquired to purchase right of ways, lay track and acquire rolling stock.
In Wabaunsee County, the first opportunity for railroad service came in 1866 when the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway asked Wabaunsee County Commissioners to approve $100,000 in bonds for a rail line across the county. The County Commissioners pared the proposal to $50,000 and put the matter to a public vote on February 24, 1866. The proposal failed with a vote of 127-49, so the ATSF moved their planned route to the south, and bypassed Wabaunsee County.
Soon, Wabaunsee County residents saw towns grow in the counties that had railroads, while the own county suffered from poor transportation. Hungry for a railroad, on August 29, 1871 Wabaunsee County voters approved $160,000 in bonds to fund the creation of the Lawrence, Topeka, and Solomon City Railway, which would pass through Wabaunsee County and Alma. The vote was 438-374. A similar vote was scheduled two days later in Shawnee County as the line crossed that county. However, Shawnee County officials learned that the proposed rail line did not pass through Topeka at all, despite the name of the enterprise. The railroad was declared a sham by county officials and the election cancelled, spelling doom for the railroad company.
In 1872 Wabaunsee County voters approved bonds for the creation of the Mill Creek Valley & Council Grove Railway, and the company petitioned the legislature to approve the creation of the proposed line. Despite voter enthusiasm for the proposal in Wabaunsee County, the proposed railroad company had never aspired to actually build and operate a railway line, but instead hoped to secure the bonds and right-of-way and then sell the entire operation to a “big operation”. None of those plans came to fruition.
It was not until 1880 that modern transportation came to Wabaunsee County when the Manhattan, Alma & Burlingame Railway laid tracks across the county.
A special note. To scan these oversize documents they had to be copied in two scans, each, and then stitched, digitally. We wish to thank Tom Parish for his donation of the digital sewing of these two documents.
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