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Cyrus Holliday

founder of Topeka

Cyrus K. Holliday

Cyrus Kurtz Holliday was born near Carlisle, Pennsylvania, on April 3, 1826. He received a law degree from Allegheny College, in Meadville, Pennsylvania, in 1852, but chose to go into business instead. His first important business venture was as a contractor for the construction of a short line of railroad in Pennsylvania, on which he realized a profit of $20,000.

Move to Kansas

Having amassed a small fortune in his native state, Holliday decided to emigrate to Kansas Territory to enlarge his field of operation, make his home and build an even greater fortune. He arrived at Lawrence in October 1854, and almost immediately became known for his prominence and leadership.

Founder of Topeka

After the adoption of the Lecompton Constitution and the establishment of the Territorial Capital, it was the judgment of Holliday and other leading citizens of Lawrence that Kansas would eventually become a free state, and that it was time to search for a permanent capital. So, on November 21, 1854, Holliday and seven other men started west along the Kansas River. They found a suitable site on November 22, and made arrangements to acquire enough land upon which to establish a town site. The Topeka Town Company was subsequently formed, and Holliday became its first president. Holliday continued to direct the affairs of the town company until all the lots were disposed of. When the company went out of business, Holliday became trustee, charged with curing all defects of titles. Many of the town lots remained in his name up to the time of his death, and for many years he was the largest individual taxpayer in the City of Topeka.

Railroad Promoter

Once Topeka was founded, it needed a railroad line to connect it to the rest of the country. In 1859, Holliday wrote the charter for the Atchison and Topeka Railroad Company, which would connect the cities of Atchison and Topeka by rail following the route of the Santa Fe Trail. Territorial Governor Andrew Horatio Reeder approved the charter on February 11, 1859, and Holliday became a director and president of the railroad on September 17, 1860. The railroad became the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad in 1863.

During his tenure as president, Holliday secured land grants from the federal government that enabled the railroad to be extended to the westernmost settlements of Kansas, and beyond. He stepped down from the presidency at the end of 1863, but remained on the board of directors until July 27, 1865. He rejoined the board on September 4, 1868, and served until his death.


Holliday was a member of the first Free State Convention, held in Topeka in 1857, as well as the second at the same place in 1858. When Horace Greeley came to Kansas in 1859 to organize the free-state men in the Republican Party, Holliday was one of the prominent factors in the movement. At the Osawatomie Convention, held in May 1859, Holliday helped found the Republican Party of Kansas. In 1861, he was chosen to be State Senator for the Sixth District, which included the counties of Shawnee, Jackson, Jefferson and Osage. As Adjutant-General of Kansas during the Civil War, Holliday handled the business of the Kansas regiments. His extreme efficiency in this latter position earned him the honorary title of Colonel, by which he was afterwards familiarly known. In 1866 Holliday represented the Topeka district in the Kansas House of Representatives. In 1874 he was a candidate for Congress before the Republican Convention, but was defeated. In 1884 he was nominated for Lieutenant-Governor by a convention of Democrats and Republicans who favored prohibition, but was defeated at the polls.

Other Interests

For many years Holliday was president of the Excelsior Coke and Gas company of Topeka, and later was president of the Merchants' National bank of the same city. He was president of the State Historical Society in 1890, and was, from the first, one of its most active and influential members.

Cyrus K. Holliday died in Topeka on March 29, 1900. He was survived by his wife, Mary Jones Holliday, one daughter, Mrs. Lillie H. Kellam, and one son, Charles K. Holliday. He is buried in Topeka Cemetery.

Horace Greeley
Civil War

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This page was last updated on September 23, 2017.