Railroads in Kansas
The rapid growth of railroads after the Civil War was both a response to an existing need and an attempt to meet the challenge of future development. The frontier was pushing across the Kansas plains, "49ers" had begun the settlement of Colorado and other areas of the mountain West, and the Pacific Coast was already an important and growing market.
To link these widespread regions with one another and with Eastern markets, fast and reliable transportation was needed. The railroad was the ready and obvious answer. Kansas businessmen and political leaders, even before the Civil War, dreamed of rail systems that would connect their infant cities with every place of importance in the nation. However, they soon learned that private enterprise alone could not finance such costly undertakings. Particularly in those areas where settlement was sparse and investment capital was slow in yielding returns, it was found that governmental assistance was necessary. Support came in the form of land grants, and sometimes cash, from the federal and state governments, and from city, county, and township bond issues, which were exchanged for railroad stock and a promise that the company would build their way. Financial problems and physical hazards might easily have discouraged men of less determination.
The Union Pacific Railway Company, Eastern Division, was organized in 1863. Some construction work immediately began near Wyandotte. However, only after later generous grants from the U.S. government did the work of laying track get underway. The railroad began operation in 1866.
The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway, originally organized in 1859, began laying track in 1868. By 1872 the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe track reached the western Kansas border.
The Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad was incorporated in 1870, spurred by the promise of federal land grant money if it could be the first railroad to reach the Kansas border from the Neosho Valley in the south. The land grants were never realized, but the railroad continued to push southward connecting Kansas to the Gulf of Mexico. In the process it acquired numerous smaller rail lines in Missouri
Great celebrations greeted railroad officials and construction crews as the tracks reached more and more distant towns. Often a town's survival depended on whether or not it was serviced by a railroad line.
Tracks required continual maintenance to remain safe. Section crews were responsible for the upkeep of six- to eight-mile stretches of track. These were the hardest railroad jobs and often only new immigrants were willing to take on the challenge.
Railroad yards ranged from tiny fueling stations to huge industrial complexes at major centers like Topeka. The railroads developed promotional campaigns to encourage settlement in Kansas. Their offers included free or reduced rate transportation to potential buyers. Many settlers on railroad land, especially those from overseas, could bring all of their household goods at the company's expense.
Railroad Construction in Kansas Timeline
1855 – February 1 –Leavenworth, Pawnee & Western Railroad organized (becomes Kansas Pacific Railway)
1859 – February 11 – Kansas territorial legislature creates charter for the Santa Fe Railway
1862 - July 1 – Leavenworth, Pawnee & Western Railroad receives charter from U.S. Congress to build a railroad and telegraph line from the Missouri River to the 100th meridian, at Fort Riley
1863 – March 3 – President Abraham Lincoln signs land grant bill designating alternate sections to the Santa Fe Railway
1863 – June 6 – Leavenworth, Pawnee & Western Railroad renamed Union Pacific Railway, Eastern Division
1863 – September 7 - Union Pacific Railway, Eastern Division, groundbreaking ceremony held at Wyandotte
1863 – November 23 – Stockholders designate official name – Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway Company
1864 – November 28 – first excursion train from Wyandotte to Lawrence, 38 miles
1866 – June – Union Pacific Railway, Eastern Division reaches Junction City
1866 – July 3 – Union Pacific Railway, Eastern Division, authorized by Congress to build from Fort Riley to Denver, then to join with the Union pacific near Cheyenne, Wyoming
1867 – March – Union Pacific, Eastern Division, crosses the Solomon River
1867 – April 16 – Union Pacific, Eastern Division, crosses the Salina River
1867 – October 1 – Union Pacific Railway, Eastern Division reaches Ellsworth, 224 miles
1867 – October 14 - Union Pacific Railway, Eastern Division reaches Hays, 260 miles
1867 – November 1 – Leavenworth, Lawrence & Galveston railroad crosses Kansas River at Lawrence
1868 – Union Pacific Railway, Southern Branch or Missouri, Kansas, and Texas Railroad (KATY) construction begins at Junction City
1868 – August – Cimarron Route is abandoned
1868 – August 22 – Union Pacific Railway, Eastern Division reaches Sheridan, Wallace County, 406 miles
1868 – October 30 – First spade of earth is turned beginning construction on the Santa Fe railroad
1869 – March 3 – Union Pacific Railway, Eastern Division name changed to Kansas Pacific Railway
1869 – April – first Santa Fe excursion is made from Topeka to Wakarusa
1869 – September 18 – Santa Fe reaches Burlingame
1869 – October – Kansas Pacific Railway construction resumes westward from Sheridan
1870 – March – Kansas Pacific, formerly Union Pacific Railway, Eastern Division, reached Kit Carson, Colorado
1870 – June 6 – Missouri, Kansas, and Texas Railroad (KATY) reaches the border of Indian Territory (Oklahoma)
1870 – July – Santa Fe reaches Emporia
1870 – August 15 – Kansas Pacific and Denver Pacific meet at a point called Comanche Crossing, 602 miles
1870 – September 1 – Kansas Pacific Railway service to Denver begins
1870 – October 3 – Kansas Pacific Railway reaches downtown Denver’s passenger depot
1871 – March – line from Sedalia, Missouri, to Fort Scott connects with KATY in the new community of Parsons
1871 – July 17 – Santa Fe reaches Newton
1871 – October KATY reaches Fort Gibson, Indian Territory (Oklahoma)
1872 – May 16 – Santa Fe connects Atchison and Topeka
1872 – June 8 – Santa Fe reaches Hutchinson, considered the end of the track, but construction continues
1872 – September – Santa Fe reaches Dodge City
1872 – December 25 – Missouri, Kansas, Teas Railroad reaches Red River and Denison, Texas, with a new route to the Gulf
1872 – December 28 – Santa Fe reaches Kansas-Colorado border, ahead of its March 3, 1873 deadline
1873 – July – Santa Fe Railroad reaches old Granada, Colorado
1876 – November – Kansas Pacific Railway is in receivership
1879 – March 7 – Jay Gould and associates with Union Pacific agree to purchase controlling interest in Kansas Pacific Railway
1880 – January 24 – Kansas Pacific Railway is merged with Union Pacific Railroad and Denver Pacific Railway to form Union Pacific Railway
1988 – August – Katy Industries sold line to the Union Pacific Railroad
Kansas Memory, the Historical Society's digital portal, contains more than 3,600 items from the railroad. More than 2,500 of those items relate to the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe. The following items are among the museum's railroads collections.
Entry: Railroads in Kansas
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: January 2010
Date Modified: February 2017
The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.