Florida Stories

Railroad

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For much of central Florida's history, the expression "you can't get there from here" was a reality! Throughout much of the 19th century, dense vegetation, loamy soils, and geographic isolation made getting to the region a challenge. The earliest settlers had to traverse the distance on foot, with mule or horse drawn carts for their property. As the post-Civil War years progressed, however, roads were built and improved, steamboats plied the rivers inland from the more heavily settled northern and coastal regions, and railroad tracks were laid down in increasing numbers.

These improvements overcame central Florida’s geographic isolation, resulting in increased access to the region for people and goods. By the early 20th century, central Florida had become a well-integrated center of population and commerce.

Read the Travel Diary of a young man and follow this mysterious naturalist through Central Florida in December 1895 and January 1896. Travel with him by steamer from Jacksonville to Sanford, and on to Melbourne, as he describes and draws the natural life around him: plants, animals, marine life, the St. Johns River. Tag along as he hunts, fishes and socializes with the locals. Marvel at details of daily life, business, the citrus industry, religion, and recreation.

"I arrived here safely yesterday morning after a very tiresome hot and uncomfortable trip of nearly 2 days from Richmond and the trains all very late and all crowded, owing to a very large assemblage of old soldiers at Washington, on one of their annual gatherings." - Excerpt from a letter, Arthur William Catesby Smyth to Beatrice Alice Smyth, dated September 25, 1892, The Magnolia, Orlando, Florida.

In 1880, one of the first rail lines into Central Florida, the South Florida Railroad, was completed from Sanford to Maitland. By the time the railroad was purchased by the Henry B. Plant Investment Company in 1883, the line had been extended to Orlando. As part of the railroad and shipping giant, Plant System, the railway was extended into Tampa. Passengers, livestock and produce were required to make steamboat connections in Jacksonville to travel south to Sanford. In 1886, the Jacksonville, Tampa and Key West Railroad reached Sanford. The narrow gauge rails were changed to standard gauge. By 1899, this line also became part of the Plant System. As the result of many rail mergers at the turn of the century, the Plant System consolidated into the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad in 1902, and into the Seaboard Coastline by 1903.

"January 2nd we took train over [l + T R-R] [Rail-Road?] to Titusville, 47 miles fare $2.20 left on time, 1.36 P.M. – along road we saw lakes all covered with water hyacynth so thick you would not think of water being beneath. A number of cattle I saw in the lakes the water up their sides, sometimes nearly covering their backs + they grazing on the Hyacynth. There are great quantities of this plant on the st Johns River and it is said to be the growth of only about 4 years On reaching Titusville took room at Mrs. Decker $1.00 a day." - Excerpt from Travel Diary, January 2, 1896.

The opening of the railroad system through Central Florida favorably impacted commerce and trade for the area's citrus industry, allowing perishable produce to be transported to northern markets using rail, as well as shipping carriers at Jacksonville and Tampa ports. Railroad barons, Henry M. Flagler in Jacksonville and Henry B. Plant in Tampa, developed grand hotels in the late 1880s. Marketing Florida's healthy and temperate winter climate, wealthy northerners were able to travel to these glamorous accommodations, starting Florida's tourist industry.

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