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Santa Fe Railway

Santa Fe Railway constructionAt the center of the nation, Kansas served as a crossroads to the West. Trails traversed the area even before the Santa Fe Trail commerce route opened in 1821. The trails gave way to the state's railroads.

Cyrus K. Holliday is credited with inaugurating the Santa Fe railroad system when he wrote the charter. Since Kansas Territory had no general incorporation laws, it was necessary to obtain charter authorization through an act of the territorial legislature. On February 11, 1859, the Kansas Territorial Legislature created the Santa Fe Railway. The charter provided that the company be incorporated under the name of the Atchison and Topeka Railway Company. A severe drought in 1860 and the outbreak of the Civil War the next year prevented any progress toward actual construction.

The company remained almost in hibernation for two years until congressional aid was obtained in 1863. A land grant bill was signed by President Abraham Lincoln on March 3, 1863, providing the company would be given every alternate section of land, designated by odd numbers, 10 sections in width on each side of its roads and branches. The sale of these lands would provide necessary operating capital. The act also stipulated that the line from Atchison to the Kansas-Colorado line would be completed and in operation by March 3, 1873.

The name of the company was changed by a vote of the stockholders on November 23, 1863, to the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway Company. A short time later several changes were made in the Santa Fe's administration. Because the Civil War was still raging, little could be accomplished except to keep the organization intact. Even after the war's end, the problem remained in finding investors willing to finance initial construction and progress was slow.

After several setbacks in attempting to find a construction company, the first spade full of earth was turned marking the beginning of construction of the Santa Fe railroad, on October 30, 1868. Chief participant in the ceremony that took place in Topeka was Senator Edmund G. Ross, also in the crowd of about 20 persons was Cyrus K. Holliday.

By early spring 1869 the tracklayers were moving rapidly westward and in April the first excursion was made over the new line, from Topeka to Wakarusa. On September 18 the sight of the iron horse was seen in Burlingame.

The race toward the state's western border was now at full speed. In July 1870 the train reached Emporia and on July 17, 1871, the first train arrived in Newton. On June 8, 1872, Hutchinson was considered the end of the track, but construction crews moved on, reaching Dodge City in September. All that remained to be conquered was a hundred miles or more of flat prairie land. Finally, in spite of human predators, bad weather, tight money, long supply lines, a surveyor's error, and innumerable other complications, the tracks of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe reached the true state line and five miles beyond on December 28, 1872, right on schedule.

Construction of the road's eastern extension began during autumn 1871, and despite some adversity, the connection between Topeka and Atchison was completed by May 16, 1872.

President Theodore Roosevelt at Osawatomie in Kansas Memory

In order to stimulate settlement on its Kansas lands, the Santa Fe railroad offered 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.

The Santa Fe often furnished special cars. Celebrities, especially politicians like Teddy Roosevelt, caused a sensation when their special trains stopped in a community for them to speak to the gathering crowd.

The Society has a significant collection of records from the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad/Railway.  The finding aid describes the content.  

Kansas Memory, the Society's digital portal, contains over 2500 that relate to the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway/Railroad.

Entry: Santa Fe Railway

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: December 2004

Date Modified: April 2014

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.