The poor Live Oak & Gulf! Too many times it has been confused with the more famous Live Oak Perry & Gulf. While both roads were not directly related, they were none the less cousins, though very distant cousins. Both roads were brought to life as logging branches by the Dowling family. Thomas Dowling was responsible for the beginnings of the Live Oak & Gulf in the late 1880's. His son Robert L. was responsible for the LOP&G about ten years after.
Thomas Dowling was the forefather of the mighty Dowling lumber empire that swept through out Florida from the 1860's to the 1940's. His first large mill was at Lake City which was built after the Civil War. He shipped his product out over the Florida Central & Western, a fore-runner of the Seaboard Air Line, to Jacksonville. Thomas Dowling was so important to that railroad, that they honor him with naming one of their new Rogers locomotives after him. This locomotive may have been given to him as a gift, as there is no disposition of it. If so this locomotive was used for switching the mill and running the many logging branches around Lake City.
Thomas Dowling moved his operations to Live Oak around 1888, building a sawmill and a huge planing mill complete with a shingle and barrel mill. This complex was known as the Live Oak Manufacturing Company. To supply this mill, he built a short 7 mile logging railroad south and then west out of Live Oak. As with most logging roads it was built with the lay of the ground and has several bad hills just out of town. This would effect the operations on the future Live Oak & Gulf and its successor, the Florida Railway. These hills had to be doubled quite frequently with heavy trains. None the less, this logging road served the needs of the mill quite well. The mill was located in south Live Oak, south of the junction of the Florida Central & Western (Seaboard Air Line) and Savanah Florida & Western (Atlantic Coast Line). Both roads were able to directly switch the mills.
In January of 1890, an event happened that forever changed the destiny of the railroads in this area. Phosphate was discovered all along the nearby Suwannee River, west of Live Oak. The phosphate rush that had begun in 1888 with the discovery of this mineral at Dunnellon in north Florida and Arcadia in the south had finally reached the Suwannee area. Local farmers were digging holes in their fields in hopes of becoming rich. When the smoke cleared it was discovered that the only marketable phosphate was in the Luraville area. Speculators began buying up land and forming companies. The biggest was Thomas McIntosh of Luraville, who formed the Luraville Phosphate Co. in March of 1893 with 320 acres of phosphate rich lands.
Here we have a hand dug pit which I have called the bee-hive. Note the scafolding used for carrying the refuse which is dumped on the growing waste pile in the background. Florida Photographic Archives Photograph.
Transportation to the mines consisted of water transport by steamboat on the Suwannee to Cedar Keys, where it could be loaded onto either railcars or steamship. Or the miner could have it hauled over the sand mired road to Live Oak, 16 miles away. The first railroad in the area was the Suwannee River Railway, a logging tapline owned by the Suwannee Steam Mills at Ellaville, 15 miles north of Luraville. This logger built a branch to Luraville, but being a cheaply built logging branch at the end of its usefulness, it must have been a risk of derailment of such heavy cargo. Also the round about route added over 30 miles to the freight tariff, adding up to the expense of the shipper. As almost all phosphate at this time was shipped overseas to Europe, a direct route to a port was needed, in this case Jacksonville. To be competitive the miners needed better transportation.
Prior to the forming of the Luraville Phosphate Co., Thomas McIntosh was able to come with terms with Thomas Dowling and together they formed the Live Oak, Luraville & Deadman's Bay Railroad Company, which was organized on February 16, 1893. With the transportation problem solved, McIntosh was able to get financing from New York for his Luraville Phosphate Company. While half of the LOL&DBRR was built in the form of Dowling's log road, financing for the other half was not forthcoming. Without the railroad, the mine was severely hampered and could not reach full production.
The Live Oak, Luraville & Deadman's Bay Railroad began constructing a grade beginning at the end of Thomas Dowling's Logging Railroad. While only 9 miles was needed to reach Luraville, the company only had enough money to construct the grade, ties and rails were far beyond their reach. And to make matters worse, the company could not come up with the cash to purchase Dowling's Log Railroad. This was all the progress the company did for all of 1893 and 1894. Because the transportation problem could not be solved the Luraville mines were bought up by a new company by the end of 1894. The French had arrived.