Tap Lines
Charlotte Harbor & Northern Railway
"The Boca Grande Route"
Part II
Donald R. Hensley, Jr.

(Revised 03/30/2007 with suggestions from Thomas Fetters)

CH&N #  8 at Boca Grande
CH&N # 8 with the regular passenger train pulling into the station at Boca Grande circa 1925.
Photographed by the Burgett Brothers of Tampa. Photo courtesy of the Tampa Public Library.

    It was in May of 1899 when the American Agricultural Chemical Corporation (AACC) was
created from the merger of 22 northern fertilizer companies. This was created in self-defense to the Virginia-Carolina Chemical's sudden purchasing of fertilizer plants and phosphate mines from Georgia to Virginia.  As phosphate is one of the principal ingredients in fertilizer this super corporation began buying mines in the Bone Valley region, securing their full mining production. 
The Peace River Phosphate Mining Co. (PRPMC) was one object of their buying spree, purchasing a  share of the company in June of 1899, with the final buy out in January of 1902.  With this purchase came their mining railroad running from the Peace River Mines from Liverpool to Arcadia. In the meantime the AACC was buying prime phosphate land from Mulberry south to the Chicora area in Polk Country. The most important purchase was the Pierce Phosphate Co. At the time the only rail connection was the Atlantic Coast Line's (ACL) Winston & Bonevalley that ran from Winston through Mulberry and then south and east to Ft. Meade, where it joined ACL's line to Arcadia and Punta Gorda. At the time the AACC was at the mercy of ACL's monopoly which meant higher freight rates on phosphate shipped to Tampa Bay, as Seaboard Air Line (SAL) only came as close as Plant City at this time.. As most of AACC phosphate production was heading for the East Coast, it was decided to build their own railroad to Charlotte Harbor, cutting a days sailing time from the trip to Tampa Bay.
    The catalyst for this action was Peter B. Bradley who was behind the Florida acquisitions and was a proponent of using the deep water off of Gasparilla Island for a phosphate shipping port. Bradley also wanted to develop the island as he knew that the Gulf of Mexico here was one of the best fishing grounds of tropical sports fish which led many "Yankees" to vacation in the area during the winter. Here was a perfect place to build a resort town and it could be bought cheaply, as the only residents was the lighthouse keeper, Captain William Lester and his family. To accomplish this they needed a charter and they purchased the old charter of the Alafia, Manatee & Gulf Ry in 1905. AM&G had been formed on June 5, 1897 to run from Plant City to Charlotte Harbor via Arcadia but could never raise the money to build the line. However this name was not acceptable to Bradley  and it's name was quickly changed to the Charlotte Harbor & Northern Railway on July 5, 1905.
    Bradley hired veteran railroader Louis Fouts to build and run his railway. Fouts was hired as General manager and 2nd Vice-President in the CH&N and traveled first to Tampa to buy supplies. Fouts then took the steamer "Mistletoe" to Gasparilla Island, landing there on November 28, 1905, where he sat up his tent headquarters and organized his engineering staff. The company already had an experience engineer in the area, George Bruce, who was the chief engineer of the PRPC at Hull. Fouts and Bruce surveyed the island and laid out the town of Boca Grande and the railroad line through town. A temporary tent city was constructed for the imported workers and a temporary dock was built at South Boca Grande for construction supplies and laborers. The year 1906 saw the construction of the railroad on the island and the construction of the two mile long bridge connecting the island with the mainland. It was here that the greatest effort was made to build this long trestle complete with two plate girder swing bridges over two separate passes. Another long trestle and swing bridge was located at the Myakka River crossing.
    Construction between Boca Grande and Ft. Ogden was finished on June 30th of 1907 and trains were able to use the
PRPMC's tracks to reach Arcadia. Regular scheduled trains between Arcadia and Boca Grande began on August 1st. It is thought that the first locomotive used was 4-6-0 number 6, which was purchased by the PRPMC in January of 1907 for mixed train use. All five engines owned by the PRPMC were used by the CH&N, which added three 1st class coaches, two combination cars, 20 box cars, 30 flat cars, 22 phosphate cars and 2 cabooses. Phosphate tonnage for 1907-1908 (July to June fiscal year) was 55,194 tons. The railroad at this time included the mainline from South Dock to Arcadia consisting of 48.55 miles with two branches, Arcadia to Brownsville of 6.76 miles and Ft. Ogden to Liverpool of 3.49 miles.
    After two years of waiting, construction began anew in  late in 1909, with Plant City and it's SAL connections as the objective. However as the year progressed many changes were initiated by rival Seaboard Air Line (SAL) as they purchased control of the Plant City Arcadia & Gulf RR (PCA&G) and began extending the former Warnell Lumber & Veneer Company wood rail tram road towards Polk County. Warnell had built the tram line in 1898 using it's wooden rail Shays between it's big lumber mill at Plant City to its lumber camp at Welcome on the south bank of the Alafia River. The PCA&G purchased the line from Warnell in 1905 with Warnell enjoying trackage rights on the line. SAL then purchased controlling interest in 1907, absorbing and merging the road in 1909. The railroad was extended east into Polk County where it split at Edison Jct. where one line continued east towards Mulberry and the other south towards Arcadia and to Ft. Myers, where the famous inventor, Thomas Edison lived during the Winter months, hence the name Edison Jct! When SAL and AACC officials determined that duplicate trackage would be built the two sides came together and ironed out a deal, where SAL would build southeast to meet the CH&N line at a new junction to be called Bradley Jct.
1909 also saw the construction of the new shops and roundhouse at Arcadia, which were completed in October under the supervision of master mechanic L. Bragrasso. The new depot was also completed at the same time. On October 14th the steamer Jean arrived at Boca Grande with 50 miles of railroad iron for the extension north. Construction continued slowly north, reaching Bradley Jct.on July 6th, 1910 and Pierce  on June 13th, 1911. From Pierce trackage rights were gained from ACL  from Kingsford to Pierce Jct  and Mulberry, bringing the total trackage to 96.69 miles. ACL in return gained trackage rights to Chicora, 7.5 miles from Pierce Jct.  In 1910 through trains were operated between Boca Grande ,Tampa and Jacksonville  via the SAL at Bradley Jct. When the line to Mulberry was completed the following year through trains from Jacksonville operated over the ACL. The phosphate docks at South Boca Grande were also finished in 1911.
    Now that the mainline was finally built the CH&N began its primary function of moving phosphate south to the port at South Boca Grande to be loaded onto steamers for worldwide transport. Raw rock from various AACC mines moved north to the huge drying plant at Pierce (Pierce Phosphate Co.) for drying and storage. SAL also built a branch line to Pierce and now with three carriers the rates really did bottom out for AACC and rock could be moved moved to Tampa via ACL and SAL or to Fernandina via SAL. Other mines served included Amalgamated Phosphate Co. (later American Cyanamid) at Chicora and Brewster.  The Palmetto Phosphate Co. of Tiger Bay (next door to Ft. Meade) built a 9 mile branch to Cottman on the CH&N and then sold the branch to the CH&N in 1913. Another branch north east to a phosphate mine at Ridgewood was also built. These branch lines allowed independent mines like Palmetto Phosphate Co. to sell rock directly to the AACC.
   But the railroad also crossed a rich timberland and sawmills were built all along the line. Nocatee Crate & King Lumber at Nocatee,  Russ Lumber Co. of Arcadia and Limestone Manufacturing Co. (later Germain Lumber Co. ) of Limestone all had large mills and Warnell Lumber & Veneer of Plant City and Roux & Sons Crate at Lake Garfield (Bartow) enjoyed trackage rights over the CH&N via the SAL. Fruit and vegetable growing was also big in the Arcadia and the Ft. Ogden area with packing houses at both locations. By 1912 the company discovered that their many miles of bridges were already due for replacement so the decision was made to built a Creosote plant at Hull at the old shop site in 1913. The creosote plant used a narrow gage plant railroad and provided bridge timber and cross ties for the railroad and was the third such plant in Florida. Creosote was unloaded at South Boca Grande into storage tanks and shipped north to Hull in company service tank cars, The creosote plant and tank cars were later used by SAL until the early 50's when it was finally phased out. Excess creosoted wood were sold to other railroads creating additional revenue for the company.
    Passenger traffic was also very good for the company, as they built up Boca Grande by building homes, a hotel and a golf course. A new magnificent railroad depot was built for  the tourist to debark at Boca Grande and there was a stop at the Gasparilla fish camp on the north end. The Tampa-Boca Grande train was  popular even after the  automobile starting  eroding passenger traffic. After the SAL takeover the train continued to run until  the late 1950's.
     Motive power followed the formula that the PRPC started years ago, using small 2-8-0 for lugging the heavy rock trains south. The company soon began buying 4-4-0s for the passenger train, buying a  used American in 1909 as their #7, but in 1913 they purchased a new Baldwin 4-4-0 #8 as their principal passenger train engine. Another used but unknown 8 wheeler was bought as a standby as #9. The company bought four 4-6-0s for use on through and local trains, numbering them 26 thru 29. For phosphate trains the company purchased a Baldwin 20x24" 2-8-0 in 1907 as CH&N 15. They like it enough that they purchased three more by 1911, numbered 16 to 18. In 1913 they changed manufacturers and bought two ALCO/Richmond 20x26s as numbers 50 and 51. The CH&N last locomotive purchases were four Baldwin 2-8-0s bought in 1920. These were the biggest engines used on the line at this point, 21x28"s and they were also the only oil burners used on the line. In the meantime much of the older engines were either transfered to the AACC and used as switchers or they were scrapped. Some were sold to other mining or lumber companies in the area. See the roster for more details.
   In 1913 a new railroad joined the CH&N at Arcadia, the East & West Coast RR that was built by the Miller Lumber Co. of Manatee and financed by the SAL. Motive power and rolling stock consisted of old worn out leased SAL equipment and the railroad's owners were soon forced to completely sell out to SAL, with the E&WC becoming a feeder branch. Many lumber companies used the area for logging including Nocatee Crate/King Lumber out of Nocatee, which had there own logging line that crossed the E&WC near Myakka City. Dowling Lumber and Manatee Crate at Manatee also used the line to reach their logging areas. Naval stores were also a big money producer early on. But as the trees were felled and nothing was left but stumps the railroad itself failed and was abandoned by SAL in 1934.
   In 1915, the heart and soul of the CH&N, L.M. Fouts resigned from his duties and was temporary replaced by Burdett Loomis, Jr. manager of the Pierce Phosphate Co.The search for a permanent replacement took over a year when TW Parson, the division superintendent of SAL's South Florida Division resigned to run the CH&N in 1916. This appointment brought a lot of changes to the CH&N.  Prior to the appointment the CH&N preferred connection was with the ACL and ran its passenger and merchandise trains matched to ACL schedules. But with a SAL man running the show, SAL became the preferred connection and trains were run in tuned to SAL schedules.  By the mid 1920's SAL was aggressively expanding it's railroads in Florida and by late 1925, SAL and Bradley reached an agreement to sell the CH&N stock and lease the properties to SAL. One note here about the finances of the CH&N, there was never any public indebtedness, no mortgages or bonds were ever  issued to build and equip the railroad. The railroad was built entirely with cash from the AACC with them accepting CH&N stock for this cash. As far as I know, this was the only railroad in Florida built entirely with cash!  While the sale and lease was begun in 1925, it took the ICC three years to approve it, and the SAL finally merged the railroad in 1928. SAL soon made Arcadia a division point and extended a line south to Ft. Myers and Naples. The Tampa to Boca Grande passenger train was still operated every day along with a fast freight between Boca Grande and Plant City, until the SCL era slowly killed the port forcing all phosphate traffic to Tampa Bay. The rail line between Arcadia and Boca Grande was abandoned in 1986. The CH&N between Mulberry and Arcadia is still being used as the phosphate mines moves south along its route and the line also feeds traffic to the Seminole Gulf RR to Ft. Myers.
For more information and photos about the CH&N

To Part III Photos of CH&N Locomotives!