Railroad History

In 1858 a group of Lawrence businessmen supported the idea of a railroad route to the Gulf of Mexico. They chartered the Leavenworth, Lawrence & Fort Gibson Railroad Company by the Territorial Legislature Act of Kansas on February 12, 1858. The war between the states delayed progress of their venture. The charter was amended by an act of the State Legislative and approved February 29, 1864 and authorization was given to build a railroad from Leavenworth to the southen border of Kansas.

Senator James Lane was the first president of the LL&G. During the year of 1865, he promoted the line to communities along the route to vote in construction bonds. Senator Lane’s suicide in 1866 changed the management.

Construction began in late 1867 and on New Years day of 1868 track had been layed to Ottawa. Construction resumed in the spring of 1869 and reached Coffeyville in 1871. Making a total distance of 143.83 miles for the railroad line.

On March 5, 1875 the LL&G RR, Co. went into receivership and was sold under foreclosure. Struggling to survive, the railroad was sold October 22, 1878. The new owners changed the name to the Leavenworth, Lawrence & Galveston Railroad Company.

In 1879 the Leavenworth, Lawrence & Galveston Railroad Company name was changed again to the Kansas City, Lawerance and Southern. The quickly growing Santa Fe Railroad took control of the stock in November of 1880, but ran it under the name of the Kansas City, Lawrence and Southern Railroad Company.

During 1880’s the highest rate of speed allowed for express passenger trains was 25 – 35 mph. The highest rate of speed allowed for mail and freight trains was 15 mph.

In December of 1880 the Kansas City, Lawrence & Southern Kansas RR, Ottawa & Burlington RR, and the Kansas City & Olathe RR Companies were consolidated under the name of the Southern Kansas Railroad Company.

From the first of May in 1882, until the mid 1970’s, the line ran under the name of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway Company. The ATSF operated the line until the mid 1970s. In 1990, they sold to the Kansas City Terminal Railway Company (KCT). The same year the KCT filed for abandonment.

Railroad history courtesy of the Friends of the Prairie Spirit Trail.


Development of the Prairie Spirit Trail

When the rail line filed for abandonment the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks filed for public use. Title was transferred to KDWP for development into a recreational rail-trail in 1992.

The Prairie Spirit Trail was constructed between Ottawa and Iola in three phases:

Phase 1: The 17-mile middle section, from Richmond through Garnett to Welda, was opened in 1996.

Phase 2: The northern 16-mile section, from Ottawa through Princeton to Richmond, opened in 1998.

Phase 3: The southern 18-mile section, from Welda through Colony to Iola, opened in 2008.

The railbanked railroad corridor of the Kansas City Terminal Railway (KCT), formerly operated by ATSF, is now managed by the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism.

On May 28, 2010 the Kansas governor officially named the trail the “Prairie Spirit Trail State Park”.


Development of Prairie Spirit Trail Connections

The Prairie Spirit Trail was the first, and largest, rails-to-trails project in Kansas, and it has spurred development of many additional trails around the state, and especially in communities along, adjacent to, and near the Prairie Spirit Trail.

In Ottawa, the Kanza Rail-Trails Conservancy has been developing the Flint Hills Nature Trail for many years. The Flint Hills Nature Trail connect Osawatomie in the east and Council Grove to the west, along the former Missouri Pacific Railroad line. The FHNT connects to the Landon Nature Trail near Pomona, which will one day connect to Topeka. The PST and FHNT intersect just south of the Old Depot Museum trailhead.

In 2012, the Prairie Spirit Trail was extended within Iola, between Cofachique Park and Riverside Park. In 2013, the Southwind Rail Trail opened between Iola and Humboldt; while this trail is not officially part of the Prairie Spirit Trail, it follows the same railroad corridor, and so is in effect part of one continuous trail. In 2015, Iola add the Missouri Pacific Recreational Trail as a spur heading east from the Prairie Spirit Trail into downtown Iola. In 2016, the Lehigh Portland Trails, with over 10 miles of new hiking and biking trails, opened on the south edge of Iola, with a direct connection to the Southwind Rail Trail.

Rail-trails are being constructed at a quickening pace around the state. View the Kansas Rail-Trails Directory at Kansas Cyclist for a complete listing.


See Also: About the Prairie Spirit Trail