All images are from the Drew Collection and the Florida Photographic Collection
at the Florida State Archives of Tallahassee, Florida
       The story of the Florida Railway begins many years ago in the New Hampshire farm lands of Belknap County when George Franklin Drew was born on August 6, 1827 to John & Charlotte (Davis) Drew.  George Drew's family was a typical farming family with many brothers and sisters and very little time for schooling, George  Drew only received fourteen months of learning, but he yearned for more and wished to go to college. However, George's father and older brother dislike George's attempt to better his education and tormented him whenever he was found with a book. Things soon came to a head when George was but fourteen. George and his older brother was each given a chore to do, George finished his quickly and began to read a book, his father caught him and demanded that he help his brother.  George replied that his brother did not help him, and he would not help his brother. George's father then cut a switch and started whipping the boy on his legs. George having by this time grown to full size and being very strong,  tackled his father and pinned him to the ground, while his father continued whipping his legs. Finally his father gave up and George released him, but George knew that his time at home was up and he packed up and traveled to Lowell, Massachusetts.

Governor George F. Drew

       Now Lowell was a boom town at that time, as it was becoming one of the towns embracing the new technology of that time exported from England, machining and steam engines. Young George Drew was in the right place at the right time, and he became an apprentice with the Locks & Canal Co. which was also known as the Lowell Machine Shop in 1841. Here he learned the art of building steam stationary steam engines as well as steam locomotives. He became a full fledge machinist in 1846 at the age of 19, when he was sent to Cohoes, NY to take charge of a mill being built there. After a year he returned to Lowell, but he again left on assignment, this time to built the first stationary steam engine in Columbus, Ga. It was here that he decided to put down roots, and he established his own machine shop and built many of the steam mills in the surrounding area. In 1854 he married Amelia Dickens and moved to Doherty County, GA and then on to Lee County, Ga to build his own sawmill.

       At the beginning of the Civil War, George Drew was a successful and rich business man. Even though he was a slave owner he was against the succession of the Southern States (he was of the Whig party) and was outspoken about it and made enemies with the state and confederate governments. Still he did what he was told and made his first trip to Florida to supervise the manufacture of salt on the beaches of the Gulf of Mexico. However he was set up by agents of the Confederacy who swore he communicated with the blockade fleet, even though the plant was out of site of the Gulf in an inlet. George Drew was arrested and taken to Savannah and thrown into prison for many months. When the facts came out during the trial, he was acquitted and released. Hurrying home by rail he was alerted by the friendly train crew that he was to be arrested again by soldiers that were on board, so the engineer slowed down enough for George Drew to jump near his home. Sneaking home he was able to meet his wife and acquire a horse and gold for a trip to Florida where he would try to gain the blockade fleet. This he was successful at and remained with the fleet until the end of the war, though he did try once to have his family joined him but it was foiled.

Ellavile Mill
       After the war he returned for his family and vowed to emigrate to Brazil, but instead he traveled south to the Suwannee River and using the small amount of gold he saved established a small sawmill at Columbus, FL, in Suwannee County. In 1869 in partnership with Louis Bucki of New York he built a new mill at Ellaville, FL, (named after George Drew's longtime African-American servant, Ella) ,on the opposite side of the Suwannee, in Madison County. The sawmill was located in a perfect location, at the confluence of the Withlacoochee and the Suwannee. No logging railroads were needed here at this time as they used the two rivers to carry the logs down to the mill. This method of logging is fine as long as the logging is confined within a few miles of the rivers. The sawmill was enlarged until it was the largest sawmill in Florida at the time. Employing 500 people and 200 head of livestock  and utilizing several mills, the complex cut 100,000 board feet a day. The largest mill had a 100 hp engine and a gang of 16 saws and 2 circular saws and with a capacity of 50,000 ft. Located on the Florida Railway & Navigation Co. mainline between Jacksonville & Tallahassee, the railroad operated a special train to service the mill, one day to the mills and back to Jacksonville the next.  The mill purchased a new locomotive from Baldwin in 1874, a small 0-4-0 which carried c/n 3586 and had 9x16 inch cylinders and 36 inch drivers. It carried the name "Frank Drew" after George F. Drew's small son. This may have had a big impact on the young mind of the boy, as Frank Drew was the driving force behind the building of railroads by the Drew Lumber Co. later on. The Drew-Bucki Mill also owned an unknown 38 ton 4-4-0 Hinkley which they may have bought used. These locomotives were used on the logging line that was started south of Columbus, FL to log rich strands of Pine in Suwannee County. Using trackage rights over the Florida Ry. & Transportation Co. bridge over the Suwannee River, this logging line became  known as the Suwannee River RR.

Switching the Ellaville Mill.

       However the political climate in Florida was terrible, what with corruption at all levels of government and their ability to rig elections. The carpetbaggers had looted Florida for all it was worth and even controlled the two main railroads in the state, looting their state land grants. This in turn kept the states Internal Improvement Fund bankrupt which finance the construction of new railroads by the granting of state lands. Florida's economy was stagnated and by 1876 after over 10 years of reconstruction the Democrats needed a man everyone could rally too. Political unknown George Drew fit the ticket perfectly as the ruling Republicans could not dig up any dirt on him at all. But the carpetbaggers had plans which were drawn up by US Senator Zack Chandler of Wisconsin. The carpetbaggers would of course rig the election with false votes on election day. Then by stationing troops all over Florida, they would arrest Drew on bogus charges, which of course would result in state wide riots, the federal troops would intervene and in the meantime the vote count would be passed quickly through and a Republican victory would be assured, with the resulting bloodshed covering the ballot fraud. However things did not go well for the carpetbaggers, as one of Drew's employees at the mill intercepted the plan as it was being telegraphed over the railroad's lines. The mill train that was  at the mill loading was ordered to rendezvous with a special train carrying Federal Marshals and to carrying them to Ellaville to arrest Drew. But George was friendly with all the train crews and they arranged for the train to follow orders but to take their time getting back to Ellaville. This left George Drew with enough time to measure the railroad's covered bridge at Ellaville , remove the rails and to burn it down. The returning train could not cross and had to returned to Jacksonville. Drew before he left for Tallahassee the next day gave orders for the bridge to be rebuilt with newly sawn lumber cut to exact dimensions as the old bridge.

Covered Railroad Bridge over the Suwannee

       Things however were not save yet. The fraud vote still went through and a recount was ordered by the court system and the whole matter was dropped into the laps of the state's Supreme Court (all appointed by the carpetbaggers) on the day of the inauguration. Armed riots were still possible as thousands of Floridians converged on the capital armed to the teeth. Then two thousand redshirted Georgians rode across the border and joined the people at the capital. To oppose them were  outnumbered Federal troops a few blocks away.  The Supreme Court wisely decided to declare George Drew the winner and eleven years of occupation was finally over. The carpetbaggers tried one more trick, an assasin tried to kill Drew on the podium, but he was quickly overpowered by the anti-carpetbagger crowd. Drew was able to stem corruption and bring stability and respect back to the state government durring his one term. However he was not a party man and was not renominated after his term was over in 1880, the Democrats putting in their own man.

Log boom at the Ellaville Mill with the covered bridge in the background.

       George F. Drew then returned to Ellaville but soon sold his interest in the mill to his partner Bucki in 1882.  From there he moved to Jacksonville where he opened a wholesale hardware business. In 1886 he returned to the lumber business as the Drew Lumber Co., by wholesaling lumber from Jacksonville. Buying entire mill outputs he would wholesale it to buyers in the northern states. Needing more mill output he built the Branford Lumber Co. in 1887 which was located on the lower Suwannee River, again using the lower Suwannee to transport the cut logs. The Savannah, Florida & Western connected with this mill for shipment of finished lumber. His son George L. Drew joined him in this operation along with George E. Porter of Live Oak, FL. Later on that year  he contracted the mill output of George Dowling's mill at Chester, Fl.

Frank Drew

        Frank Drew joined his father and older brother when they incorporated the Columbia City Land & Lumber Co. south of Lake  City on the Savannah, Florida & Western's Lake City Branch. The mill here was different then the other Drew mills, no water transportation. A simple log road was constructed at first but it was soon realized that they need better transportation.  They contracted with Baldwin to build them a small 2-6-0 in 1890. This locomotive carried c/n 10887 and was finished in May. She was numbered 1 and was named "Columbia" and was powered by 14x22 inch cylinders with 44 inch drivers. She was shortly followed by an used locomotive, Baldwin c/n 5113, which was built new for the Northern Pacific # 23 (re# 829) in May of 1880. She may have been bought from a used locomotive dealer in Chicago, the Hick Works. This 4-4-0 had 17x24 inch cylinders and 62 inch drivers. For some odd reason the Drews decided to number their locomotives with odd number, so the ex NP 4-4-0 carried the number 3. Both locomotives would carry these numbers on the Suwannee & San pedro and the Florida Railway for their entire careers. The mill also had enough rails to lay about 10 miles of track though it is unknown if they had a 10 mile logging railroad or instead had 10 miles of spurs branching off the SF&W.

Columbia City Land & Lumber Co.

   Meanwhile the Drews continued to acquire mill outputs or the mills themselves. In 1888 they contracted the Mansfield Mill at Dutton, Nassau County, FL. Then in 1889 they contracted the Marietta Mill at Duvall, Duvall County, FL and the Bache Brothers Mill  which was located 5 miles west of Live Oak on the Live Oak & Gulf in Suwannee County. The Bache Brothers would later on lose a locomotive in the Suwannee, as it fell off a barge transporting it to the other bank sometime in the 1890's. This civil war era locomotive was pulled from the river almost 100 years later and is now on display in Tallahassee at the State Dept. of Agriculture. Also in 1889 the Drews purchased the Mansfield Mill adding it to their stable of sawmills. They only contracted with one other sawmill in 1891, the West Brothers & Higdon at West Farm, FL, in Madison County, just a few miles west of Ellaville.

George L. Drew

       After George  F. Drew sold out to Louis Bucki and his son Charles. Bucki incorporated the Ellaville Mill as the Bucki & Sons Mill. The Suwannee River Ry. was pushed further along to the town of "Hudson on the Suwannee" which would later become Dowling Park after the R.L. Dowling Shortline had built over the old Suwannee River grade around the turn of the century. In 1888 the Suwannee River Ry received its third locomotive, an unknown Rogers locomotive as announced in the Jacksonville Florida Times-Union newspaper. By 1889 they had pushed as far south as Luraville Jct. a distance of 20 miles. An 1889 State Railroad Commission report states that the 20 mile line had revenues of $55,613 with expenses of $33,500.  The road employed 40 men and had 3 locomotives and 43 flat cars. By 1892 the road was extended further south to Frederica, FL a distance of 35 miles and the rolling stock was increased to 4 locomotives and 60 cars. Projected to reach the SF&W at O'Brien, FL that year,  only 2 more miles were constructed southward by 1894 to Fredricksburg. However the phosphate rush at Luraville created a short spur from Phosphate Hill to Luraville of 5 miles. See the Live Oak & Gulf story for more info on Luraville.  In 1893 the railroad operated 6 trains but this was reduced to 4 trains by 1894. By 1895 the railroad only operated to Luraville carrying out the phosphate ores and the Bucki's wisely sold it to some New York business men who tried to promote it in 1895, but gave up the following year. By that time all the forest had been cut down and the newly built Live Oak & Gulf had reached Luraville taping the phosphate mines.

Branford Mill

       The Drew Lumber Co. had by early 1899 depleted the timber on their lands at both Columbia City and Branford. The Drews had purchased a large tract of pine lands in Lafayette County from the Internal Improvement Fund and from private holdings. While limited logging had taken place near the banks of the Suwannee and floated down to Branford, the Drews realized that they needed a logging railroad to haul the logs to the river. But Frank Drew wanted to built a common carrier to open up this area as their were no railroads in Lafayette or Taylor Counties at this time. While Frank Drew was thinking of a Live Oak to Perry railroad, George F. and George L. were thinking more in the direction of a short logging railroad between their holdings and the Suwannee and floating the logs down to Branford. By May of 1899 Frank had already won his brother over to his plan but his father was still skeptical, but he did give in to building a short railroad from opposite the Live Oak & Gulf to Mayo, FL, and to move the mill to a large lake near Mayo. Frank durring this month was already out in the field running surveys and locating line. All he needed was a charter.

    On March 24, 1899 C.W. Sweet of Baltimore along with R. Bowen Daniel, Augusta V.S. Smith and E.C.Bixler of Jacksonville, incorporated the Suwannee & San Pedro R.R. and projecting to run it from Live Oak to the Suwannee River.  One of the mysteries is who are these guys? They don't seem to be connected to any area sawmills or railroads. Nor do they seem to be connected with the Drews, but on July 1st, 1899, the Drew Lbr. Co. took over the Suwannee & San Pedro R.R. charter paying around $2,500 for it.

    To be continued........................................

To Part 2 - The Live Oak & Gulf Railroad

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