The Florida Railroad Story

Used with permission of the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society.

It may be said that, of the railroads built before the Civil War, the Florida Railroad was of the greatest importance to the State of Florida, for it served its true purpose of constituting a cross-state rail shipping route. The road was incorporated on January 8th, 1853, with an authorized capital of $1,000,000. The proposed route was from Fernandina to Cedar Key. Of this company, David L. Yulee was President, George W. Call, Secretary and Treasurer, and Martin L. Smith, Chief Engineer. The principal office of the company was at Fernandina. The Florida Rail Road enjoyed a Federal land grant of 290,183.28 acres, and a Florida grant of 505,144.14 acres. Unfortunately the company got off to a bad start in the matter of financing, which brought upon the officials, severe criticism by the Governor and other State officers. It was charged, among other things, that the estimated cost of the road would be $3,500,000, to meet which, the company would have the proceeds of bonds guaranteed by the Internal Improvement Fund to the extent of $1,655,000, and land bonds it had issued to the amount of $1,500,000, leaving to be paid on $1,000,000 stock only $345,000. Consequently, stockholders would be called on to pay only about thirty-five cents on the dollar for stock, while the Internal Improvement Fund must take stock at par in compensation for its payments of interest.

Another charge was that the company had issued bonds based on land grants, before it had any title to the lands. The Governor intimated that he was confronted by a "Wall Street scheme," and that Congress had not intended such liberal aid for the purpose of enabling men "to enrich themselves at the public expense."

Actual construction started in 1855, and was completed from:

Fernandina to Lofton......10 miles Aug 1st, 1856
Lofton to Crawford........20 miles Nov. 1st, 1856
Crawford to Fiftone.......20 miles Aug. 1st, 1857
Fiftone to Reynolds.......24 miles Mar. 1st, 1858
Reynolds to Hampton........6 miles Jan. 1st, 1859
Hampton to Gainesville....17.5 miles Feb. 1st, 1859
Gainesville to Venables...20 miles June 1st, 1859
Venables to Sumner........30.5 miles Jan. 1st, 1860
Sumner to Cedar Key........7.5 miles Mar. 1st, 1861
...............Total.....155.5 miles.

By early spring of 1860, the end of track had been pushed westward to the vicinity of a settlement called Sumner, and, April 14th, the Tallahassee Floridian carried the following item: "Only eighteen miles of track are to be laid and the long desired rail connection between the waters of the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico will be established. The energetic contractor, Mr. Phelan, is pushing the work forward vigorously with an efficient force of one hundred hands, and will doubtless complete his task by the time specified by his contract. Already, the planters on the Gulf coast are availing themselves of the facilities afforded by the progress of the road. Soon the dim and gloomy recesses of those primeval and almost impenetrable forests will re-echo the startling scream of the locomotive, and their affrighted denizens will tremble with terror as the unusual sound penetrates their hidden lairs."

It is evident that contractor Phelan and his force of "one hundred hands" were slowed down in their energetic task of building those last eighteen miles, for, on May 19th, the Floridian stated, "The Florida Railroad is nearly finished. Perhaps, by the first of June, the cars will pass from the Atlantic to the Gulf, at Cedar Key. On a recent tour of the completed portion of the road over which we passed, we found it to be substantially built. The trestle over the Amelia Marsh, (a few miles west of Fernandina), which has given rise to so much controversy in the past, is being rapidly filled in, as originally designed, and, when this is finished, that celebrated work will be as massive and enduring as could be desired."

Although it was March 1st, 1861, before the "scream" of the locomotive whistle was heard in Cedar Key, the company issued a public timetable dated October 29th, 1860, which covered most of the line.


Schedule of Trains.
Monday, October 29, 1860.

12:45 PM Lv. Fernandina Ar. 2:15 PM
3:40 PM Lv. Baldwin Ar. 11:30 AM
6:40 PM Lv. Gainesville Ar. 8:10 AM
8:40 PM Ar. Bronson Lv. 6:05 AM

Freight train west, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Freight train east, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
At Baldwin, daily connections are made with trains for Lake City and Tallahassee.

Signed, J. E. LARKIN, Eng. & Supt.

Fernandina, Oct. 23rd, 1860.

As to the roster of motive power owned by the Florida Railroad, we find that, upon the date of the initial track-laying, the only engine owned by the company was a second hand eight-wheeler, known as the "Abner McGehee," which had been purchased from a sawmill operator, and for whom it was named. This locomotive had 12" x 22" cylinders, 54" drivers and was built for the Montgomery R. R. It carried the Rogers construction number "12" and was dated April, 1839. This engine was used in laying most of the track between Fernandina and Cedar Key.

In June of 1857, by which time the rails had been laid nearly fifty miles to a place called Fiftone, it was found that another locomotive was needed. The company then purchased, from the Taunton Works, another 4-4-0 known as the "Gov. Broome," specifications of which included 12"x22" cylinders and 60- inch drivers. This was number 229 on the Taunton construction records. The next addition to the roster came in 1860, when the "Alachua" and the "Marion," both 4-4-0's, were ordered from Rogers. These engines, numbered 898 and 902 in the Rogers records, had 15"x22" cylinders, and sixty-inch drivers. They were both dated February, 1860. Final disposition of the "Abner McGehee" is not known; and the "Gov. Broome" was sold to the Fernandina & Jacksonville R. R., and scrapped in 1888.

No more locomotives were purchased by the Florida Railroad until after the Civil War.
These appear in the F. C. & P. roster.

Although the completion of the Florida Railroad marked a new era" in the development of the State, by opening up a vast area for development, and by furnishing the long awaited coast to coast shipping route, there were many less-public-spirited citizens who opposed the road. Backwoodsmen claimed that turpentine operations, developed as a result of the railroad, ruined their hog ranges, and that the railroad killed their cattle; farmers wives claimed that market eggs were broken when carts crossed the tracks. Despite the voices of opposition, the road was completed to its full length of 155.5 miles, the track being laid to five-foot gauge, with 58-pound iron "chair" rail, which had been imported from England. The company was operated by its own management from the close of construction until October 6th, 1866, service, however, being seriously interrupted by events of the civil war. On the above date, for failure to make the required interest payments on its State-guaranteed bonds, possession was taken by agents of the Internal Improvement trustees, who forced its sale.

To carry out the intention of the Internal Improvement Act, of building a railroad to Tampa Bay, the Florida Peninsular Railroad Co. was incorporated in 1859. This was really a re-organization of an earlier company known as the Southern Peninsular Railroad Co. Even under the reorganized set-up, little progress was made toward a line of railroad, which was projected to extend from a point on the Florida Railroad, known as Waldo, to Tampa Bay. Prior to the outbreak of the Civil War, the only accomplishment was a graded right-of-way from Waldo to Ocala.


Although it is beyond the scope of this work to relate, in detail, the events leading up to or during the war between the states, it is, however, in order to present a few facts in connection with the part which the Florida railroads played during the period of strife.

An accusation, frequently brought against the seceding states just prior to the outbreak of the war, was that the so-called "railroad class" wanted secession for financial ends. It is true that, at this time, the Florida Railroad owed one firm in New York three-quarters of a million dollars. Heavy stockholders in the road were Floridians active in furthering secession. David Yulee, U. S. Senator, was President of the road and a prominent figure in the secession movement. Since 1850, more than $8,000,000 had been expended for the construction of railways in the State. A considerable portion of this sum had been contributed in the form of bond purchases, by capitalists in the North. Would secession mean necessarily the wiping-out of honest, bonded indebtedness? Thus, we observe the possibility that, in this tragic and complex crisis of the South's history, the selfish and sinister designs of a few Southern and Northern capitalists helped to arouse the passions and honest prejudices of the American people.

Florida, being at the southern end of the Confederacy, was only liable to attack by sea, at the outset of the war, and the strategy adopted called primarily for the defending of the coast. This proved highly difficult in view of the extensive coast line and the limited number of troops available for this purpose.

Cedar Key was the first coast town to fall to the Federal forces, when, on January 15th, 1862, the harbor was entered by the U. S. S. "Hatteras." Marines and sailors from the ship were sent ashore, where they set afire five schooners and three sloops loaded with cotton and turpentine preparatory to running the blockade; burned the railway depot, seven freight cars and a warehouse filled with turpentine; and pulled down all telegraph wires. This was the first naval raid on an unprotected Florida seaport. Military strength at Cedar Key had been depleted to strengthen Fernandina, which was the Atlantic terminus of the Florida Railroad, and, as a result, the Gulf terminus of the road was practically wiped out by one small gunboat.

A few weeks later, February 28th, a Federal expedition, for the occupation of East Florida, sailed from Port Royal, South Carolina. After some delay en route, the advance squadron came into the bay off Fernandina, at the mouth of the St. Mary's River. Word of the impending attack having reached the settlement in advance of the arrival of the fleet, evacuation of the town was under way. As the gunboats approached, the last railway train pulled out from the station at Fernandina. The cars were crowded with fugitives and piled high with household goods. Confederate outposts appeared here and there on the shore, and firing random shots at the boats, retreated into the woods. The forsaken hamlet on the edge of the sea was serene in the bright sunshine of the winter afternoon. The locomotive and cars began the passage of the long trestle, which connected the island with the mainland. The leading Federal gunboat opened fire. A solid shot struck the last car, and tearing through tables, chairs, and bedsteads, killed two boys seated on a sofa. The wrecked car with its dead was uncoupled, and the train, amid the cannon shots of pursuers, went on into safety.

The confusion accompanying secession and war produced a scarcity of currency, particularly fractional currency coins and small bills. A number of corporations, and the railroads in particular, began to issue their own notes for small amounts, early in 1861. Typical of such "railroad money" or "change bills" was an issue by the Tallahassee Railroad Company, of one, two and three-dollar denominations. This money, in circulation for a time, passed as currency at a slight discount.

The progress of the war within the boundaries of Florida was marked by few campaigns of major proportions. However, raiding parties from both sides constantly harassed and destroyed the interior lines of communication within the State, a major objective being the cross-state line, from Fernandina to Cedar Key, the east and west termini of which were put out of commission early in the war. The interior connecting trackage remained in operation, after a fashion, throughout the conflict, but subject to almost constant raids. The portion of road between Fernandina and Baldwin was soon put completely out of operation. However, by means of a connection at the latter point with the main line of the Florida, Atlantic & Gulf Central, the Florida Railroad retained at least indirect physical connection with the Atlantic seaboard by way of Jacksonville and the St. Johns River.

In spring of 1864, the Confederate war department decided to construct a railway connection between the nearest points of the Florida Atlantic & Gulf Central and the Albany & Gulf Railroad, which extended westward in Georgia, from the city of Savannah, along a line parallel to the Georgia-Florida boundary. Such a connection would greatly facilitate the movement of troops and supplies between Florida and the other states of the Confederacy This connection was projected northward from Live Oak, on the F. A. & G. C., to Dupont, Georgia, on the A. & G. To accomplish this purpose, railroad iron, spikes and bolts were "impressed" in East Florida, (along the wrecked Florida R. R. between Baldwin and Fernandina). Such material was then very scarce in the South. Under a permit issued by the commanding general of the district, a force of Confederate engineers under the command of Lieutenant Fairbanks, was put to removing the rail and transporting it to Live Oak. The permit called upon all officers to aid Fairbanks because, "the work he is engaged in is a military necessity."

The railroad owners and their friends, led by ex-Senator Yulee, filed a bill in the court of Alachua County against Lt. Fairbanks, and Maj, Minor Merriweather, of the Confederate engineering bureau. In response to the petition the court awarded an injunction against defendants, restraining them or their agents from removing the iron. The writ of injunction was served on Lt. Fairbanks, April 27th. He disregarded it and continued to remove the iron. General Anderson, of the Confederate army, furnished Fairbanks and his workers with a military guard, and "impressed" a locomotive and several cars for hauling the iron. Some two or three miles of track had been removed, when, on May 28th, the lieutenant was summoned to answer for contempt of court. He again disregarded the court's order, refused to seek the advice of counsel, and continued to tear up track. The court, unable to enforce its decrees, dropped the case.

In addition to the agitation over the so-called "railroad iron case," the year 1864 was marked by a concerted effort on the part of the Federal forces in Florida, to render useless as much as possible of the remaining rail network. On the night of February 8th, a detachment of mounted infantry headed west thru the pine woods and heavy swamps. Just before daybreak, they rode into Baldwin, twenty miles from Jacksonville. The place had not profited by the war. Its railway station, warehouses, and a score of dilapidated houses passed into Federal possession, without a shot being fired. Strategically the hamlet was important being the railway junction from which extended the F. A. & G. C. westward to Lake City, in central Florida, and eastward to Jacksonville; also the remains of the Florida R. R. running south toward Cedar Fey, and the ruins of the northward line in the direction of Fernandina. Stores belonging to the Confederacy, which were stored in and about the station and warehouse, were pillaged and burned. The, people remaining in Baldwin told the invaders that the Confederate troops had retired westward. Wretched desolation was written over the face of the country. "Yes, sir, Baldwin is a dreadful poor city with right smart, poor people in it," said one citizen to a man in the Federal ranks, and the trooper had no reason to doubt the piteous truth of the remark.

From July 29th to 31st, a raiding party, after landing at Cedar Key, advanced eastward along the railroad, capturing one hundred forty bales of cotton, burning the trestle over the Wassassee River, thirty miles from the Gulf, and tearing up considerable track. On the evening of August 17th, a column of troops from Baldwin, heading south, made a night march to the railroad junction at Starke. There it set fire to the station, railroad cars, and warehouses full of supplies.

It has been estimated that, by the close of the war, railroad property in Florida was damaged to the extent of more than a million dollars, or one-seventh of the total valuation of the entire rail system at the time. Due to the devastation by the war, most of the railroad companies failed to make the required payments to the Internal Improvement Fund, large amounts of interest remained unpaid, and the companies faced bankruptcy. Probably the hardest hit of the various roads was David Yulee's Florida Rail Road. Its principal terminals had been destroyed, cross ties and bridges along the line were burned or rotting, a large part of the rail had been removed, and of the rolling stock there remained only five engines, three of which were in no condition for immediate use. There were also nine box cars, twelve fiats, and two dilapidated coaches. For a more complete picture as to the physical condition of the property, we quote from the report of the company engineer, who made a survey of the line shortly after the close of the war.

"At Cedar Key, the large railroad wharf, the warehouse and depot structures are burned and entirely destroyed; the trestles crossing from the Keys to the mainland, nearly a mile in extent, rotten to such a degree that they will have to be entirely rebuilt before trains can cross again; the structures crossing the water openings west of Bronson entirely rotten, so as - to necessitate entire rebuilding; the structures between Bronson and Baldwin in a very inferior condition, so that most of them will need repair, especially the high bridge across Hatchet Creek; the cross ties between the Keys and Baldwin so rotten that much of the iron has bent from lack of support; the iron between 40th and 10th mileposts, and the three miles on Amelia Island, taken up and carried off to some other road; all of the cross ties of the forty-seven miles east entirely rotten, so as to make it necessary to replace the whole of them before relaying the iron; all the large and costly structures crossing the tide waters and streams on the last thirty miles of the road east rotten or destroyed, among them the two high-truss, Howe bridges over Boggy River and Lofton Creek, the stationary through bridge and the low, Howe truss pivot, over Mills and Plummer swamps; the wharves and warehouses, the depot structure and shops at Fernandina destroyed. The wrecks of three engines standing stripped of everything portable, while a fourth has been stolen entirely. Only two engines are left usable, on the entire line."

Despite adverse business conditions, and under extreme financial stress, the company undertook the rehabilitation of the road. Work commenced on the eastern end of the line, and, by the middle of April, 1866, work trains were able to run as far west as Gainesville. Even the obstinate range cattle added to the headaches of the management, such as on the night of February 18th, when the locomotive "Marion" was being run to Gainesville for some much needed repairs. Upon approaching Hatchet Creek trestle, the headlights failed to reveal some cows on the track, in time for the engineer to bring the locomotive under control on the down grade. Striking one of the beasts, the engine was thrown off the rails, but, strange to say, bounded across the whole length of the trestle, which was some twenty feet high and fifty feet in length, on the ties, before it was thrown entirely off the roadbed. Fortunately no one was seriously injured, and the engine sustained no material damage. The night being intensely dark, the "run off" was deemed entirely unavoidable.

During 1866, David Yulee was a political prisoner and, during this same year, for failure to pay the accruing interest on its bonds, and the 1% due the sinking fund, the trustees of the Internal Improvement Fund took possession of the franchise, and sold the road on October 6th, for $323,400, to Isaac K. Roberts, who was acting as agent for Edward N. Dickerson and associates, bondholders and creditors. Reorganization of the company was completed on November 3rd, 1866. The new management continued the reconstruction of the road and immediately placed orders for two new locomotives to supplement those which had survived the ravages of war. Upon delivery of the new engines, from Rhode Island, they were given the names "Starke" and "Gainesville."


Name Builder C/N Date Type Cyls. DD FC&P#

Abner McGehee Rogers 12 1839 4-4-0 12x22 54 - (a)
Gov. Broome Taunton 229 1857 4-4-0 12x22 60 - (b)
Alachua Rogers 898 1860 4-4-0 15x22 60 4
Marion _ Rogers 902 1860 4-4-0 15x22 60 5
Starke R. I. 161 1869 4-4-0 15x22 54 6
Gainesville R. I. 162 1869 4-4-0 15x22 54 7

a. Did not reach the F. R. & N.
b. Sold to Fernandina & Jacksonville, in 1880, and was scrapped in 1888.

Of possible interest to students of Florida railroad history is the origin of the names of various towns, which were situated along the right-of-way of the Florida R. R., some of which are as follow :

Hart's Road. Later called Yulee. Where the railroad crossed the highway from Jacksonville to St. Mary's, Ga., which was built by Mr. Hart, and was known as "Hart's Road."

Baldwin. Named for Dr. A. S. Baldwin, of Jacksonville.

Callahan. Named for the contractor who built part of the road.

Trail Ridge. Later called Highland. Where the railroad crossed the ridge upon which ran an old Indian trail.

Starke. Named by Maj. Geo. W. Call, in honor of a Miss Starke.

Waldo. Named for Benjamin Waldo, a wealthy land owner in Alachua and Marion Counties.

Gainesville. Named for General Gaines, who commanded troops in Florida, during the second Seminole war.

Archer. Named for James T. Archer, a close friend of Mr. Yulee.

Bronson. Named for U. S. Judge Isaac Bronson, before whom Mr. Yulee practiced law, in his early manhood.

The Florida Railroad operated under the Dickerson Administration until January 18th, 1872, at which time the name of the company was changed to Atlantic, Gulf & West India Transit Co.

Used with permission of the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society.