Though Topeka has been the Kansas State Capital since Kansas became a state in 1861, in the late 1880s with expansion through to the west edge of the state, and with travel taking much more time than today, a rumble arose about moving the capital to a more centralized location. Several cities in the state vied for that plum.

Though Topeka has been the Kansas State Capital since Kansas became a state in 1861, in the late 1880s with expansion through to the west edge of the state, and with travel taking much more time than today, a rumble arose about moving the capital to a more centralized location. Several cities in the state vied for that plum.
It was the dream of some Kansans, led by speaker of the House of Representatives A. W. Smith, later a Republican candidate for governor, to bring it here to McPherson. In 1887, city officials began an attempt to have the community named the state capital. The push lasted until some time in 1889. Toward that end, several amenities were created, a scant few of which remain today.
“Things that still exist from that plan? Well, they’re very few. At 305 North Main, there’s the stone emblem on top of what’s now the Firestone building that says Capital Hill Block, and there’s the first opera house, where Sounds Great and CTFIT24 now operate. That would be about it,” local historian and president of the McPherson County Historical Society David Nigh, said.
In their attempt to become the capital, McPherson officials invited the legislature to town. An 1887 news article stated while few from the Senate attended, there was “full representation from the House... together with visiting statesmen, reporters and others to the number of about 300... They were met at the depot with what (was) aptly described as 10 acres of carriages.”
“They (city officials) hired a special train to get the legislators out here. They wined ‘em and dined ‘em at the Union Hotel, where the Plaza is now, and then they took ‘em next door to the opera house... but it didn’t go.”
A Sentinel article from 1986 states that a “you scratch our back, we’ll scratch yours” deal had been struck between the House and Senate to approve McPherson as the new capital, but “a squabble between the legislative bodies ensued and the Senate held the bill, waiting for a better time to try and pass it. The time never came.”
 
The princess of the prairies
Dubbed the princess of the prairies by the Daily Capital in 1888, McPherson had high ideals and aspirations. Nigh has possession of a map where streets were platted out and the state capitol was supposed to be, in an area south of town now owned by NCRA on the east side of the highway.
“They wanted the trolley to run all the way to where the state capitol building would be, but instead it ran out to the college, where Central Christian College is. And north, it ran to the old fairgrounds. That’s about where Tractor Supply would be now. So it was quite a stretch by horse-drawn trolley.”
The horse-drawn trolley line was installed with several miles of track and three cars. Though they had a 99-year franchise, they went out of business in the early 1890s, some said due to mishandling of income.

No brag, just fact
A news article from 1887 boasts of the trolley’s completion, with “electric lights... (and) close after it... water works, and the new high school building will follow soon. Thus McPherson goes on with a steady march, no brag, no wind, no bluster, but solid work, and successful work too.”
Also in 1887 a list of 45 elements of what McPherson had to offer was published. While interspersed with whimsical items such as “the most charming widows,” “the prettiest girls”, and “not a single saloon or drunkard,” it listed 18 daily trains, four railroad lines, eight factories, six grain elevators, five banks, six hotels, nine churches, a daily newspaper and a board of trade. It also noted plans for a college, opera house and extended water system.
Leaders bragged the town could provide for 500 guests in less than a day’s notice. In 1888, yet another article touted the City’s merits.

‘Outlandish schemes’
Steve Read, McPherson Public Library director, said of the attitude of the time, “McPherson wasn’t unique in it wanted to be the state capital,” though it was one of the smaller towns in the race. The hubris to believe that they could become the seat of government for the state “was not an uncommon attitude. It was a different atmosphere back then, one of ‘anything is possible’. There were a lot of outlandish schemes that actually paid off.
“Think about it,” he said. “People with the mindset to come out to an open prairie and envision a town, and its growing to around 4,000 people only 15 years later. There was proof that anything was possible.”
When asked if he thought that same mindset existed today, he shook his head thoughtfully.
“It was the closing of the West,” he said. “There are no new frontiers to conquer here.”
If a town takes on a personality and certain expectations, it may not think of new avenues to explore, or be open to them.
“No more outlandish ideas, maybe?” Read said.
Contemplating the state of mind of the founders, Nigh said, “It was a boom town at the time. They had some big dreams.”