“Topeka went half crazy over Vinewood yesterday,” so the newspapers reported the day after that fabulous Sunday, July 26, 1903, when Vinewood Park opened.
It was something the town had been anticipating a long time, for the city railway company had been promising Topeka, among a number of other things, it would build a suburban line between the city and Vinewood--some five miles southeast of Topeka. And if further proposed to develop and up-date the old Vinewood Park into one of the biggest, finest parks Topekans--or anybody else anywhere--had ever seen.
When it was finally ready to make good on that double-promise, a grand, gala Sunday opening of the new park was planned. And for the Saturday preceding it, the Topeka Railway Company issued invitations to a hundred special guests, including city and county officials and the town’s most prominent citizens for a preview showing of the new park and a special trial run of it’s new electric cars.
To catch some of the excitement of the occasion, let’s go back 66 [written in 1969] years and read a few excerpts picked up from the TOPEKA STATE JOURNAL of July 25, 1903, and from the TOPEKA HERALD of the same date. And we quote:
At half past ten o’clock this morning two of the large Vinewood Park cars left the corner of Eighth and Kansas Avenue for the formal opening of the park. Vice President L. E. Meyers of the Topeka Railway Company operated the front car and sent it flying over the rails in record time--five and two-thirds miles in 22 minutes. The company unloaded itself at the entrance to the park and as had been pre-arranged, Mayor Bergundthal hoisted the flag upon the pole at the front of the park and the resort was opened for the public. The party then proceeded into park, made an examination of the the grounds and the work being done, even took rides in the new boats.
With this first-hand glimpse into the new park, Topeka’s leading citizens were fully convinced that Vinewood is going to be one of the biggest summer additions Topeka ever had, not the least bit like the old Vinewood. Only one familiar thing is left--the old dancing pavilion. New buildings are under construction. Many little stands over the grounds will twinkle at night with rows of electric lights. Great wide walks have been laid out and bridges put in wherever there is need of one. A restaurant and café will accommodate hungry pleasure seekers. A sounding shell, or bandstand, shaped like a quarter globe, is big enough for a band of fifty players and their instruments. Eight new boats are already in service --boats so light they row as easy as canoes. Benches have been placed all through the park for the convenience of the public. There is plenty of good, cool shade; truly the park is an elegant place.
The man who owns Vinewood is E. E. Wilson, president of the railway. The property is said to consist of 432 acres.* (*less than 40 acres used as the amusement park). Mr. Wilson bought it about 2 years ago as an investment. Or it is rumored he got it in exchange for a Texas ranch from the former owner (C. W. Ament) who had built a part of the “dummy line” track that used to connect with it. The owner is determined to make his investment calculated at $20,000, a paying one, and he is spend another $10,000 on
improvements. The park is to be lighted by electricity. The sounding shell alone will be lighted with 300 lights.
After the visitors were shown the improvements that are in progress, and plans and hopes of the park management were explained, the Topeka Railway Company management treated the two car loads of invited guests to an impromptu picnic lunch and cold drinks. And to quote again from those July 1903 newspapers:
Then they were hauled home over the long, smooth stretch of track on flying cars in a manner intensely gratifying. Pleased enjoyment was written all over the faces of the guests.
The Topeka Railway is justly proud of it’s new suburban line. It is said, “The ride to Vinewood is in itself a pleasure.” The track has been constructed at the expense of a number of high fills and deep cuts. The Twelfth Street viaduct is a very creditable piece of engineering, and the entire track is excellently constructed. It is not perfectly ballasted but is safe for fast running and the officials this morning gave their guests a very good idea of the sort of time that will be made upon the line. The scenery along the line is as beautiful as is to be found anywhere in Kansas.
With that glowing report in both Saturday night’s papers, its little wonder that Topekans were “anxious over much” to see the new park.
The crowd had gathered when the first car started for the park Sunday morning. They went singly and in pairs, they went in families and by noon were going in droves. Places on the cars were fought for good-naturedly and some caught the cars coming up the street and climbed in through the windows. By official count, more than 7,000 people rode out to the park that Sunday.
From morning until late at night the corner of Eighth and Kansas Avenue was filled with a pushing, shoving crowd, frantic to get in a car and be hauled to the park. All went well through the earlier part of the day despite a number of delays from the derailing of the small trailer cars placed in service to handle the crowd. The narrow and work treads of the little trailers’ wheels were never meant to roll on the new heavy track, at relatively high speed.
The rush became heavier as the day wore on, and by mid-afternoon the company realized it had a big job on it’s hands to get the people back at night. By six o’clock the returning cars were crowded, but even more people were ready to leave town, intending to reach the park in time for the band concert. Some of the members of Marshall’s band were unable to get seats, and did not reach the park until after nine.
The demand for power in running the railway was so great that the lights at the park would intermittently flicker, and glare, and go out--and all but put an end to the band concert program. However, the band managed to play a number of things it know by heart, and kept the program going as best it could. As for the tete-tetes flourishing on all those new park benches, they seemed to progress even better for the lack of light.
All in all, that Sunday night, July 26, 1903, marked the worst foul-up on local transportation history.
Trailers put on to handle the extra crowd, jumped the tracks at curves and switches and destroyed all semblance of a schedule of service. Trains, blockaded by derailments, arrived at the ends of the line--both park and town--three and four together. In evening the railway officials at the park decided to stop using the lightweight trailers and to confine service to the large Jewett interurban cars. Thru a misunderstanding at head quarters the small trailers kept going to the park, and a series of bad accidents followed. By ten o’clock service was all but suspended for 2 or 3 hours. By midnight the situation had taken on the character of a calamity. The most serious accident occurred about 12:30 a.m. on the track near the corner of Twelfth and Madison. An axle under one of the larger city cars broke, and it could not be budged. The people on that car got of and walked home. Cars sent out from the city picked up stranded passengers and by 4 o’clock in the morning had brought most of them back to town.
Two thousand persons who had gone to the park for the evening concert found themselves unable to get back to town on account of the tie-up and were compelled to wait until after the track was cleared. Many considered “hoofing it home.” A few who had acquaintances in Highland Park, hunted them up and sought shelter. Two men went to a nearby poultry farm, with whose proprietor they were on speaking terms and climbed into a small office room in the brooder house where there was an empty bed. In the morning they thanked their host, and had breakfast before they completed their trip to town.
The hackmen [equivalent of a modern-day taxi cab service}, it is said, reaped a large harvest from the weary sightseers left stranded at the park.
Because they were so late getting to the park, members of Marshall’s band were even later getting the concert started. Many of them, toting heavy instruments, didn’t get away from the park until the wee small hours, when the last car of pleasure-seekers was hauled away from Vinewood at 3 a.m. From that night forth and forever more it became the rule that band members be given seats on the first car leaving for Topeka after a concert.
It was a night of anxiety for distraught mammas--and the town was filled with them, each one wondering what could have possibly happened to “her little girl.” One well-known Topeka woman, Ada Jarboe (Mrs. Paul) Montgomery, for many years the women’s editor on the Topeka Daily Capital, still has vivid recollections of the day--and night--Vinewood opened. Like every body else, she had gone to Vinewood for the grand opening. Getting back home at 3 o’clock in the morning was another story--a story Ada’s mother wouldn't’t believe until she read of the calamity in the Journal that night.
Haven’t similar mother-daughter misjudgments and misunder standings been a part of the generation gap that has always been with us?
By way of comparison, the twenty-two minutes required for that momentous six-mile ride out to Vinewood Park, will today transport you, via airliner, all the way to Kansas City. However, speaking as one who has taken both trips, the fastest, most luxurious air travel--even with free caviar and champagne--can never match the excitement and fun of that ten-cent ride out to good old Vinewood Park.
ON THE VINEWOOD LINE--The 12th Street trestle across the railroad tracks seemed twice as high to youngsters who were always thrilled at this point of the journey to Vinewood Park.
Above and below photos by Ray Hilner.
Below: Vinewood depot.
Until the “new” Vinewood Park was reopened by Topeka Railway Co. in 1903, as an amusement park, the wooded tract with picnic tables and a dance pavilion, had been served intermittently for nearly 15 years by a steam dummy train. Located on East 29th street, just north of Lake Shawnee dam, the trolley park was closed permanently at the end of it’s eight summer season, in 1910. Much of it’s equipment was moved to Garfield Park, North Topeka.