THE SOUTH FLORIDA RAILROAD
Donald R. Hensley, Jr.
It was in 1879 that the Lake Monroe & Orlando
Railroad was in deep trouble. The company was in danger of losing their charter
and the land grants promised by the State of Florida if by the end of 1880
they did not complete the road. The railroad’s promoters could not raise
the cash needed to start construction and they called what they thought would
be their last meeting in November of 1879. It was during this meeting that
a glimmer of hop shined down through the dark clouds of despair when Mr.
E. E. Henck of Longwood, Florida stood up and announced that if he and his
fledging South Florida Railroad was given their State Charter along with
its generous land grants he would push the railroad through from Sanford
to Orlando in time to save the project.
Now Mr. Henck (after years of research I have
never learned his given name) promptly transferred the charter to his South
Florida RR, which had been unable to obtain one due to the close proximity
of the Lake Monroe & Orlando RR and the States reluctance to grant charters
and land for duplicate routes. The South Florida RR was incorporated
on October 16, 1878 by Henck, E.F. Crafts, H. Mercer, and Dr. C.C. Haskell,
all of Orange County, Florida. These men hired F. C. Tucker as chief engineer
and he located a line running Lake Monroe (on the St. Johns River) at Sanford
to Orlando by December of 1879. The road was projected to run from Sanford
all the way down the state to Charlotte Harbor on the Gulf of Mexico.
The South Florida was also having trouble raising money but when Mr. Henck
obtained the charter of the LM&O he knew this would be his last chance.
Now Dr. Haskell of Maitland, Florida had a
brother in Boston, Mass. by the name of E. B. Haskell, who was a partner
with the famous R. H. Pulsifer, in the Boston Herald newspaper. Mr. Henck
borrowed seventy-five dollars from a friend and headed north to Boston,
which was also his old hometown also. Messrs. Haskell and Pulsifer agreed
to a thirty-minute meeting in which Henck could state his case. In that short
period of time the old promoter was able to convince the two men that a railroad
from Sanford to Orlando and then onward to the gulf through a new and undeveloped
Florida was a solid investment. They agreed to put up the cash for the venture,
subscribing to a majority of the stock and making them the first and only
newspaper to build and own a railroad.
Mr. Henck was made president of the railroad
and on his way back to Florida he stopped in Pittsburgh, PA to purchase ten
miles of thirty-pound rail and a little narrow gauge locomotive from Porter
on November 12, 1879. This little thirty-six inch gauge wood burning
2-4-0 had 7x12 inch cylinders, 30 inch drivers and a 4 wheel tender holding
300 gallons of water. The shipping weight of Porter c/n 353 was only 7 tons!
Getting back to Florida Henck gathered his
forces together and on January 10, 1880 they began the road in style with
visiting ex-President U.S. Grant throwing the first shovel of dirt upon the
line of grade. Then the entire day was spent in celebration of this blessed
event with plenty of food and drink for everyone.
An early South Florida RR pass. From the Florida State
Despite this grand beginning, actual construction
was slow as labor was hard to come by in this undeveloped region and most
of the labor was imported from other states. The little “Seminole” along
with 75 tons of rail arrived at Sanford by the end of January 1880. However
by March 13 only five miles of road had been graded but at this pointed over
400 hands were at work and slowly the line advance towards Orlando. By May
20 seven miles of iron had been laid to Shroder’s Mill, this increased to
nineteen miles by the first of July, leaving only three miles left to reach
But by then the South Florida’s supply of rails
had been exhausted and because of the railroad building boom in the country
there would be a three-month lull in completing the road to Orlando. To make
the most of this delay Henck began construction of the Lake Monroe-St. Johns
River wharf at Sanford, which was 800 feet long and could accommodate five
steamboats at a time.
Finally the rails were arrived in October and
the last three miles were quickly laid. The first public timetable was issued
on November 11, 1880. The railroad still only owned the little “Seminole”.
She hauled the North bound train leaving Orlando at 7:00 AM and arrived in
Sanford at 8:40 AM. After switching in Sanford for most of the day the “Seminole”
became the southbound train, departing Sanford at 4:00 PM, tying up for the
night at Orlando at 5:40 PM.
South Florida RR #2, the “Herald” , from the collection
of Harold K. Vollrath.
The “Seminole” was soon joined in January of 1881 by Baldwin c/n
5435 and numbered 2 and named the “Herald”, a small 2-6-0 with 9x16
inch cylinders and 35 inch drivers. The also purchased an used locomotive
from the New York & Manhattan Beach RR their number 5, the “Sea Breeze”,
built by Baldwin c/n 4105 in May of 1877. This 0-4-0 tank engine sported
9x16 inch cylinders and 36 inch drivers and was numbered 3 and was christened
Just when all seem well and okay, a purge hit
the South Florida RR during its annual board meeting in December of 1880.
Ousted were Henck and Tucker whom places were taken by James E. Ingrahm as
president and E. R. Traford as chief engineer. Henck and Tucker were the
scrape-goats of the three-month delay in finishing the last three miles to
With this change came also a change in the
philosophy of the company. Gone was the stubbornness of Henck to build to
the Gulf, now the new management could not make up their minds in what direction
they were to take. This was evident when on February 7, 1881 the company
chartered the Sanford & Indian River Railroad, which was projected from
Sanford to Titusville on the Indian River, an inlet on the Atlantic Ocean.
Construction soon followed with six miles being completed between Sanford
and Onoro. The road was built to three-foot gauge and was operated by the
Then management changed their minds once again
when in August of 1881 they announce their plans to extend from Orlando to
Kissimmee and to abandon construction on the Sanford & Indian River.
The reason behind this change of heart was due to Hamilton Disston who had
pledge six miles of alternate sections to the road if they would build south
to the Gulf of Mexico via Kissimmee. Disston, a Philadelphia industrialist,
had purchased four million acres of Florida real estate for 25 cents an acre
to bail out Florida’s Internal Improvement Fund that had been abused by Northern
carpetbaggers after the Civil War. The fund was originally set up prior to
the war to help finance railroad and canal construction by granting large
amounts of State owned acreage. Disston’s large purchase put the fund back
in the black and the State of Florida was now able to stimulate railroad
construction once again, the South Florida RR being one of the roads so benefited.
Just prior to the construction of this extension
it was announced that Sir Edward Reed of England and his Florida Transit
Railroad was interested in purchasing the South Florida but a deal could
not be worked out and the road started construction on the 18 mile extension
on October 6, 1881 with completion to Kissimmee on March 25, 1882.
While this work on the extension was in progress,
the South Florida amended its charter for the Apopka Branch on October 10,
1881. This was supposed to be a 56-mile railroad that would run west from
a point near Altamont Springs to the Withlacoochee River by way of Apopka.
Construction started soon after only to be halted in December when disagreements
with property owners came to light. However in March of 1882, the narrow
gauge Florida Southern Railroad began courting the South Florida that would
result in both companies constructing grades toward one another, the Florida
Southern by way of Leesburg and the South Florida using its unfinished Apopka
Branch. By May this romance ended and the South Florida once again suspended
construction. Losing interest in this project they sold the grade to the
three-foot gauge Apopka & Atlantic that had built a five-mile long railroad
from Mayo on the South Florida to Forest City on the Orange Belt Railway
in 1886. This was sold to the Alabama, Florida & Atlantic Railway in
1887, a paper road projected from Birmingham, Alabama to Jupiter, Florida,
which became inactive in 1888. The Apopka & Atlantic owned one locomotive,
two coaches, one combination mail and baggage, one observation car, three
flat cars and two boxcars.
After the extension to Kissimmee was completed
it was announced that the road would be extended to Bartow in Polk County,
which was located 45 miles west of Kissimmee. Money however had run out in
May of 1882 and President Ingrahm made the trip to Boston to raise more cash.
He successfully returned home with enough credit to purchase thirty miles
of rail along with enough material to build 20 cars and shop machinery, but
no construction would be attempted until 1883. The rest of 1882 was spent
in the field as Chief Engineer Trafford and his location crews surveyed every
possible route from Kissimmee to Tampa Bay and Charlotte Harbor.
1882 is a good place to stop and look over the South Florida.
At this time the South Florida RR was the southern most railroad in the United
States and did not interchange with any railroad, its only connection was
with the steamboats plying the St. Johns River at its northern terminus in
Sanford. On leaving Sanford the grade rises gradually as we pass the switch
to Lake Charm over the Sanford & Indian River. The main to Orlando is
all uphill from here as Sanford is at only 20 feet in elevation while Orlando
is at 111 feet. First we pass Belair (3 miles) and lake Mary (5 miles) before
we come to Longwood (10 miles), which was the headquarters of the South Florida
and the first large village south of Sanford. Longwood was also the headquarters
of Peter Demens’ sawmill, which constructed all the wooden structures for
the South Florida RR. Peter Demens would later build his own narrow gauge
railroad from Longwood, the Orange Belt Railway in 1886.
South Florida RR Station at Sanford, FL .Photo from the
Florida State Photographic Archives.
Leaving Longwood we pass Altamont Springs (13 miles) and then Mayo (14
miles) where the ill-fated Apopka branch connected to the mainline. We next
pass through Maitland (15 miles), Winter Park (18 miles), before arriving
at Orlando (22 miles), the county seat and largest town in Orange County.
From here the line descends towards the Kissimmee River basin and en-route
we pass Pine Castle (27 miles) and McKinnon (34 miles) before we reach Kissimmee
at 40 mile post and the end of the line. Kissimmee is the capital of Osceola
County and the head of navigation on the Kissimmee River at Lake Topopekaliga.
The main industry in Orange County was the
cultivation of citrus and the South Florida benefited from this seasonal
traffic, which lasted from December to May. Lumber was also a big user of
the railroad and almost every stop had a sawmill. Cattle was another large
industry as Orlando was the headquarters of the largest cattlemen in the
state and cattle free ranged over the open land south and west towards Lake
Okeechobee, Charlotte Harbor and Tampa Bay. The growing of early vegetables
also was a considerable business at this time. Sugar cane was grown in the
Kissimmee-St. Cloud area and sugar and molasses were shipped north. Tourist
traffic was also important during the winter months.
The South Florida by the end of 1882 owned
five small wood burning narrow gauge locomotives. We are already acquainted
with the first three so I will begin with number 4 the “ James T. Sanford”
a Baldwin 4-4-0 that was built in January of 1882 and caring construction
number 5990. She was soon joined by her sister, the number 5 “C. H. Andrews”
which was issued Baldwin construction number 6294 that was built in July
of 1882. Both engines had 9x16 inch cylinders and 42 inch drivers.
Other equipment at this time consisted of five
coaches, two combination mail, baggage and express cars, fifteen box cars
and twenty flat cars. All the freight equipment was only 25 feet in length
and a capacity of only 15,000 lbs.
The timetable in 1882 consisted of four trains,
2 passenger trains and two mix trains. Passenger train number one left Sanford
at 8:40AM, arriving at Orlando at 10:00AM and Kissimmee at 11:30AM. Passenger
train number 2 left Kissimmee at 4:00PM stopping at Orlando at 5:30PM and
terminating at Sanford at 6:50PM. Mixed train number 3 left Sanford at 4:20PM
meeting train number 2 at Maitland at 5:50PM and terminating at Orlando at
6:10PM. Mixed train number 4 was actually the first train of the day, leaving
Orlando at 6:50AM, arriving at Sanford by 8:40AM. No trains were run on Sundays.
South Florida Railroad’s wharf on
the St. Johns River. From the Florida State Photographic Archives.