History of Santa Rosa County, A King's County

by M. Luther King. Used with permission.


Let us recount for you the history in Florida of the "big four" in Florida railroading. It is indeed difficult to summarize in few words any one of those four. Chipley's Louisville and Nashville tended to tie the "Panhandle" together and to tie it to other portions of the state. Plant's system (The Atlantic Coast Line) tended to connect the west coast to the east coast at northeast Florida. Flagler's Florida East Coast Limited tied all that fabulous east coast of Florida together and to the "Coast Line" at Jacksonville and to the other parts of the state connected by the other two. Chipley railroaded for railroading's sake. Plant had the paramount purpose in mind of general economic development of the state for sake of his railways. Flagler was one of the earliest Florida exponents of tourism --by which his railway would profit tremendously, but pioneering was the chief motivating factor in all his ventures.

The fourth railway system in Florida, the first one to be wholly consolidated, and the one to supply the "missing link" tying all the others together into a complete network of a state system was that which was the child of the astute brain of the Virginian --John Skelton Williams.

In June of 1900 when Williams was but 35 years of age he was able to open a line from Tampa, Florida to Richmond, Virginia. He had been able to accomplish this by means of a number of purchases and combinations he had made in the few years next preceding this event: the Florida Central and Peninsular Railroad (1888 --formerly this had included the Yulee-Florida Railroad), the Jacksonville, Pensacola, and Mobile Railroad of which Chipley had rechartered the Pensacola-Apalachicola portion. The Williams Seaboard had included in its combinations several short lines, such as Jacksonville, Yulee, and Fernandina; Ocala to Tampa, Wildwood to Orlando; a Florida Central line from Yulee to Savannah and also a line from Starke to the Suwannee River. This Florida Central had successful operations of 600 miles by 1890 and became an interstate road by 1893 when it assumed trackage rights to Columbia, South Carolina.

Through stock transfers and interlocking directorates the Seaboard and Florida Central all became a part of the Seaboard Air Lines System; with Williams as president and S. Davies Warfield as Vice-President and General Manager. Warfield became president later (in the 1920's) and the third largest railway builder; where he built more than 500 miles of new trackage for Seaboard.

In retrospect it seems that Williams Seaboard was one railway of Florida whose chief objective was the development of the agricultural and industrial potential of Florida.

The great Southern Railway was to enter the Florida picture in 1899 at Lake City. This same great railway was to enter the state at another point --Jacksonville by 1900.

Thus we see by that year (1900) Florida was well served by national railway systems -by interstate systems: three of those largely southeastern and one trans-Allegheney. Then also there was that great intrastate system: The Florida East Coast Railway linking the entire east coast together from Jacksonville to Key West.

It had been largely helped by William's "missing link": Jacksonville to Apalachicola as well as by Chipley's Apalachicola to Pensacola and Pensacola to Flomaton links. Williams and Chipley had tied the state together from east-to-west across the northern boundary; which was as essential to a great transportation system as was Plant's east to west across peninsular Florida and Flagler's north to south along the east coast.

It must not be assumed that these great "systems" embodied all the railway trackage in the state; likewise, it must not be assumed that no other railway trackage was important except these. Railroads had an early beginning in Florida since the state's real development began at about the same time as the real development of railroads in the United States. Of course there were other factors important in the early development of railroads in Florida: the unusual level land over most of the state; the large amounts of pine timber easily accessible for cross-ties, and (at that time) cheap fuel for steam motive power (the pine woods again).

The first railroad to be completed in Florida was the St. Joseph-Lake Wimico line in 1836 (about eight miles). This road was abandoned for the prospects of a 28 mile railroad to the Apalachicola River at lola.

This road was never completed --never functioned as the company went into bankruptcy and its rails were removed and carried elsewhere.

The second railway of Florida was The Tallahassee-St. Marks (23 miles) which was completed in 1838. This railway was built mostly to carry the cotton of the Tallahassee area to shipside at St. Marks.

There was an extension built to Port Leon on the Gulf of Mexico but when Port Leon was destroyed by a powerful West Indian hurricane in 1843 that line was abandoned. It was some years before locomotives were used on this railroad. The motive power was mules and the engineers, negro slaves. One of the anomalies of that whole situation was the well built (still standing) depot built for this railway: a brick building.

The third railway in Florida, and one of the only two at the time was the Arcadia and Blackwater Railway in what is now Santa Rosa County (then still Escambia) which was in operation in 1838. It too had as its motive power mules and as its engineers negro slaves. This railway was built to haul sawn timber and lumber from the sawmill of Forsyth and Simpson at Arcadia (later to be Simpson and Company, still later Stearns and Culver Lumber Company, and finally to be Bagdad Land and Lumber Company.) When this mill-site was abandoned as a saw mill site, it became the site of the whole area's first cotton mill, whose principal product was "Oznaberg," a coarse heavy cotton cloth very useful on the slave operated cotton plantations of the South. This cloth was used for cotton bags in packing, as it still is in areas of "hand picking," but more important still as the cloth for the durable work clothes of the "field hand" slaves. We have not, as yet, been able to determine just how long this Arcadia railway remained in operation.

Perhaps the most ambitious of all the early railway projects in Florida and the one that has always been the most intriguing to me was the Alabama, Florida, and Georgia Railway. This railway was chartered to run between Pensacola and Columbus, Georgia. There was quite a lot of roadbed structure completed, and some of the trestles across streams have still left impressions of its ambitions. It has been so intriguing to me because of the fact that at one stage of its projection (the company) was trying to "compromise" for a terminus at Milton. The principal argument in favor of such a compromise was the apparent staggering cost of the crossing of the Escambia between Milton and Pensacola. However, the greater political weight and power of Pensacola succeeded in forcing the company into an ill-advised bankruptcy and the abandonment of the whole project rather than have the terminus at Milton.

Of course as time moved on in our immediate local area; as the logging of some areas here of the world's finest longleaf yellow pine went ahead, and certain railways were built to do such logging; (carrying logs to mill and in some cases lumber and timber to railside or shipside) these were adapted to some "common carrier" purposes and were even chartered to such uses. The Crestview-Florala division of the L. & N. was such a railway at one time. The Yellow River Railway running to Alabama from Galliver, Florida was another; the old F. and A. (Florida and Alabama) from Bagdad through Milton to Whitley, Alabama was another. Some of the way stops on this latter were such places as Roeville, Red Rock, Indian Ford, Fentress, Munson, and Geronimo.

Perhaps another that served such a "dual purpose" quite well was the one of the old Jacobe' Lumber Company; which extended to tidewater at Pensacola and in the opposite direction from the mill at Muscogee to the woods quite some distance northward into Alabama. This road was chartered as a common carrier the G. F. and A. (Gulf, Florida, and Alabama), and was "commonly" called by those who knew it best as Gophers, Frogs, and Alligators.

This was not the only humorous adaptation of some of these old "short-line," "dual-purpose" railways for another was a "dual-purpose" railway chartered for common carrier purposes and named (why this arrangement of place names I can't tell you) the Mobile, Selma, Birmingham, and Pensacola but jestingly referred to as More, Stuff, and Bigger Piles. The last two were in more recent years combined into the Pensacola extension of the St. Louis-San Francisco, better known over the whole country as the "Frisco."

There are many stories we could tell about the railways during those early days, but let's consider another important phase of transportation during this period.


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