Florida joined the Union as the twenty-seventh state in 1845, twenty-four years after it had become a U.S. possession; the first senator from the state was David Levy Yulee, an influential politician who had served on the Florida Constitutional Convention and spearheaded the drive for statehood. It was during Yulee's first term that the government began developing large unsettled parts of the country by chartering companies and individuals to build railroads. Yulee, an early railroad promoter, applied for and received a charter to build a line across the state connecting Fernandina on the east coast with Cedar Keys on the west. He started construction in 1853 and by 1858 had reached Darden's Hammock.
When it was completed to Cedar Keys in 1860, the Florida Railroad was considered to have the best equipment in the state with its two passenger cars (new, of the latest design, accommodating sixty persons each), two baggage cars, fourteen boxcars and twenty-one flatcars.
In order to help the railroad pay for itself and to help attract new settlers into the area, the government authorized the Florida Railroad to sell land along its right-of-way, The Florida Land Improvement Society, made up of principal stockholders in the Florida Railroad, was created for the task. In keeping with naming new towns after stockholders in the Florida Railroad or after prominent Florida politicians, the town was christened Archer after James T. Archer, Florida's first Secretary of State.
Service on the railroad was interrupted and the line was damaged heavily during the Civil War, but it was repaired by Federal troops shortly after the War's end. By the end of 1865 regular rail traffic had resumed through Archer. In addition the troops had strung telegraph lines along the railroad and a telegraph key was set up in Archer, connecting the town to the greater world outside.
Trains came through Archer on a regular basis. There was a once-daily mail train and a three-times-a-week passenger train. However, the tracks were so poor that the F.C.&P. Railroad was facetiously called the "friends, come and push" and the triweekly train was jokingly said to be called that because no more than three trains a week made it between Fernandina and Cedar Key without breaking down. One Northern visitor wrote of a train wreck he observed near Archer in the following manner:
Going forward to see what was the matter, we found the engine of the Eastward-bound train lying on its side in the ditch below the line, entangled in the broken telegraph wires: the tender smashed to pieces, and the front wheels of the baggage wagon embedded in sand, while the track was torn up for a considerable distance.
The writer further commented that the crew of the wrecked train had encamped comfortably in a stand of pines near the derailment and had not taken any steps to clear the line or repair the tracks although the accident had happened the day before. Since no one had been injured or killed, no one was particularly upset about the wreck. After a delay of several hours the crew had repaired the track and the train continued on its way to Cedar Key.
In 1888 members of the Gainesville Guard returned from Fernandina; after getting home some of the young men became sick. Yellow fever was diagnosed, which sent a panic throughout Gainesville. Families were bundled up and sent out to relatives and friends in the country. Others got into any kind of transportation they could find and headed out from the town. Archer became alarmed about the reports of yellow fever in Gainesville and so posted armed guards at the railroad to insure that no one got off the train. Other armed men were stationed at the crossroads leading into town from Gainesville with orders to turn everyone back.
One of the first major developments of the 1890's was the creation of new rail lines through Archer. The new railroad was the Plant System, which eventually became part of the Atlantic Coast Line. This line to Tampa would later eliminate Cedar Key as the major port on Florida's west coast. Until 1890 the F.C.& P., which became part of the Seaboard Airline Railroad, was the only railroad through town. Service included a passenger train from Cedar Key at 9 AM and one from Jacksonville which stopped at 6 PM; a freight train each way completed the daily schedule. In 1890 Ambler Lumber Company began cutting the pine forests in western Alachua County; a track was constructed from Archer to Morriston, a distance of twenty miles. By 1892 phosphate was being mined near Ocala, and a spur line was built from Archer southward down Gibson Avenue past the Presbyterian church to the Eagle Mine.
Merchants decided to move their businesses more near the junction of tracks along what would become U.S. 27/41, where a new depot had been built; the old one continued to serve as a freight station. In 1897 troop trains passed through Archer on their way to Tampa during the Spanish-American War. Whole train loads of beer, food, munitions and troops came through town and impressed the citizenry with their size and numbers of men.
This story is copyrighted by Mr. Rance O. Braley.