Biography of Joab Mulvane

Joab Mulvane. The spirit of enterprise which brings about progress is not the possession of every man, but it is the needful factor in accomplishing practical results in the life of an individual as well as a community. It includes foresight, courage and daring, and when caution is added, great things, often seemingly impossible things, may be brought about. Among the truly enterprising men who came to Kansas forty years ago and have achieved so well that their names are known and honored over the state at present is Joab Mulvane, of Topeka, ex-member of a State Legislature and the moving spirit in many lines of useful activity.

Joab Mulvane was born at Newcomerstown, Ohio, November 19, 1837, and he is one of the six survivors of the seven children born to his parents, David and Mary (Ross) Mulvane, the others being: John R., David A., William P., George W., Mary Jane, now Mrs. M. J. Dent, and Rebecca, the last named being deceased.

The pioneer of the Mulvane family in Ohio was John Mulvane, who was a soldier in the War of 1812 and afterward received a Government warrant for his services and settled in Tuscarawas County, Ohio, then a comparative wilderness. He cleared his land and improved it, and there he remained until his death. On this pioneer farm his son, David Mulvane, was born and grew to manhood. He had but meager educational opportunities, but possessed natural abilities that led him aright in business, public life and neighborhood affairs without the aid of much book learning. He assisted in the building of the Ohio Canal, a wonderful engineering feat at that time, working on the section between Cleveland and Marietta. When the canal was completed he returned to Newcomerstown and for a time operated a ferry over the Tuscarawas River and in the winter time did odd jobs as a cobbler, a trade he had learned without any apprenticeship and a very important one at that time. Afterward he started a small store in the town and bought, sold and took in trade almost everything the country roundabout produced. The tobacco and wool that he bought he shipped by way of the Ohio Canal to Cleveland, thence via Erie Canal and Hudson River to New York and Baltimore. Twice a year he made a trip to the eastern markets, traveling on horseback over the National Turnpike as far as Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, thence by rail to the foot of the Allegheny Mountains. As the railroad did not climb the mountain passes and over the peaks, the passengers often made that part of their journey on foot. Provision was made for a stationary engine to draw each railway coach (empty) separately over the mountain and there ordinary traffic was resumed and the passengers dispatched on their way at a rate of speed that then seemed marvelous. Mr. Mulvane acquired a competency and was able to give his children many advantages. He married Mary Ross, a daughter of William Ross, who was a missionary to the Indians in Ohio. His wife bore the maiden name of Whitaker and her father was the founder of one of the largest steel and iron mills in the country, situated at Philadelphia.

Joab Mulvane was his parents’ second son. He assisted his father in the store and attended the village schools and then entered an institution for collegiate advantages. His health broke down and his educational ambitions had to be abandoned. In the hope of becoming more robust he decided to journey to what was then the Far West, and as he had an uncle living in Bureau County, Illinois, he made that his objective point. The home of his uncle was near the home of Owen Lovejoy, who suffered death in 1837 from the hands of a pro-slavery mob.

When Mr. Mulvane came to Bureau County, both the Rock Island and the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy railroads were new concerns and had but few buildings for freight at stations, consequently much grain and other products ready for shipping had to be left on the ground to await trains. After a few months Mr. Mulvane returned to his Ohio home, where more comfortable methods of living prevailed than in Illinois, but he found the West had made an uneradicable impression and latent enterprise stirred within him so that but a few months later he was found once more on Illinois soil. In farm work near Princeton for a few years he regained his health and when his older brother, John R. Mulvane, joined him they went into a general mercantile business at Princeton, and Mr. Mulvane continued until 1876, when he sold his interest to his brother and came to Kansas. He had grown to importance in Bureau County, and in 1872 and 1873 was elected to the State Legislature. He was useful as a member of an important committee interested in reporting a bill creating a board of commissioners empowered to classify railways and issue schedules of maximum rates. It became the law determining the power of the state to regulate charges permissible by railroads.

During this period of his life he became interested in a hardware and farm implement business at Princetown which he conducted for some years and then joined his brother at Topeka and invested in realty and other interests and also bought and sold stock to some extent. In his various transactions several tracts of valuable land came into his possession which he still owns.

Mr. Mulvane’s first identification with railroad affairs in Kansas may date from the time that William B. Strong, then general manager and later president of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad Company, prevailed on Mr. Mulvane to go among the people of the State of Kansas to urge them to aid in the construction of several badly needed branch roads. In this undertaking Mr. Mulvane was quite successful and the first line was from Florence, Kansas, to McPherson.

During this time Mr. Mulvane organized and built the horse street car line at Topeka and for a number of years was president of the company operating it. The line then ran through the heart of the city and the present city system conformed to it in building. Edward Wilder, treasurer of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad, was secretary and treasurer of the company. Mr. Mulvane’s enterprising spirit was particularly displayed when, in association with John R. Mulvane, S. A. Walker and a man named Smith, organized and conducted the first telephone system in Topeka, continuing several years and then selling to the Missouri and Kansas Telephone Company. Some years after the organization of the Edison Electric Light and Power Company, Mr. Mulvane was influenced by Mr. Wilder to consent to become its president and remained in this office until it was sold to the present owners. During this time he also became president of the Topeka Water Company, which he later purchased, improved and then sold to eastern capitalists. He is a member of the board of directors of the Bank of Topeka, formerly the Topeka Bank and Savings Institution.

In 1885, at the request of President Strong, Mr. Mulvane accepted the presidency of the numerous branch roads to be built in the state by the Santa Fe in connection with it, and a number of charters were taken out but later they were all covered by a charter known as the Chicago, Kansas & Western Railroad Company, under which between 900 and 1,000 miles of railroad were constructed. Localities through which these lines passed voted county and township aid in the sum of $4,000 per mile and received $4,000 per mile in stock in the railroad company so aided. Somewhat prior to this Mr. Mulvane had been engaged by the Santa Fe in extending lines from Wichita to Winfield and Arkansas City, and to Wellington and Caldwell in the counties of Sumner and Cowley. The flourishing Town of Mulvane in the last named county was so designated in honor of Joab Mulvane.

As an investment, Mr. Mulvane with others acquired some 2,000 acres on the Santa Fe line near Kansas City, Morris Station being located on this land. As president of the Kansas Town Company he acquired for that corporation a large acreage at Argentine, Kansas, primarily for the use of the Santa Fe road. The portion not so used was platted and sold and now comprises the greater part of Argentine. Other large enterprises interested Mr. Mulvane. With his brother, John R. Mulvane and the Bank of Topeka, he acquired the property of the Kansas Salt Company at Hutchinson, Kansas, became president of the company and operated and managed its affairs successfully for a number of years, when, through his business acumen a consolidation was brought about with the Hutchinson & Kansas Salt Company, in which Jay Gould owned a controlling interest. The consolidated company was subsequently sold to the National Salt Company of New York. Mr. Mulvane then became interested in the Chickasha Oil Company, located at Chickasha, Oklahoma, of which he is vice president and treasurer and a member of the executive board. He is also vice president and a member of the executive committee of the American Cement Plaster Company, of Lawrence, Kansas, a director and executive member of the Western States Portland Cement Company, of Independence, Kansas, and was president of the Shawnee Fire Insurance Company until it sold out to the National Fire Insurance Company.

At Princeton, Illinois, in 1859, Joab Mulvane was married to Sarah A. Ross, who died at Topeka, January 18, 1910. To this union were born six children: David W.; Zenia A., now Mrs. Speed Hughes, of Topeka; William J.; Margaret A., now Mrs. H. S. Morgan, of Topeka; John J. and Harriet M. Three are deceased: Harriet M., who is interred at Princeton, Illinois; and William J. and John J., who are interred by the side of their mother in the Topeka cemetery.

In politics Mr. Mulvane has ever been an outspoken republican and an effective party worker on many occasions. He has furthered in many ways the cause of education in Kansas and is a member of the board of trustees of Baker College at Baldwin. His attitude in relation to religion is well known. He is a member of the board of stewards of the First Methodist Episcopal Church at Topeka.



Connelley, William E. A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans. Chicago : Lewis, 1918. 5v. Biographies can be accessed from this page: Kansas and Kansans Biographies.

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