ORLANDO & LAKE JESUP RAILROAD, as well as the Town of TUSKAWILLA, are among many examples of how railroads shaped the central Florida as we know it today.
An actual town of Tuskawilla no longer exists, but if George C. BRANTLEY had had his way, this Ghost Town of today would have been the starting point for his railroad. The FIRST central Florida train departed out of SANFORD, but months before, the FIRST track in this region had been surveyed for the ORLANDO & LAKE JESUP Railroad.
During the 1870s, long before personal automobiles, the task of transforming Florida’s interior fell on trains. Riverboats, like the ‘Tuskawilla’, delivered people and cargo to various docks, but an inland alternative to old sand rutted trails was needed for the area to attract settlers in large numbers.
The Civil War had interrupted the building of an Orange County railroad, but following the War, plans resurfaced. By 1870, retired warriors floated the idea of a train running between MELLONVILLE and TAMPA. Money problems put that start-up venture on hold.
Dreamers kept dreaming though, and a race of sort was on to build the first railroad to serve a growing number of steamers on the St. Johns River. One planner was a Georgia boy named George C. BRANTLEY.
A merchant having “a large store and warehouse” on Lake Jesup, Brantley’s Wharf was visited in 1873 by Thomas W. Lund, Jr, son of a St. Johns Riverboat Captain. Lund’s parents owned a winter residence near the wharf, and Lund, Jr. described mule teams hauling freight from “Tuscawilla to Maitland and Orlando.” Planning for the town of SANFORD was in its infancy in 1873, and as for the train at nearby Mellonville, it was still on hold, still hoping to raise cash.
Brantley’s plan began to take shape on the 2 day of January, 1874. On that day he sold 225 acres to cattleman Jacob Summerlin, land surrounding much of present-day Lake Eola, on the east side of downtown ORLANDO.
Brantley’s Orlando railway depot was planned for the east side of Lake Eola. Had his train been first to arrive at the County Seat, it would have drastically altered not only how downtown Orlando evolved, but also how cities north and east of Orlando might have developed. This train, for example, was to have stay east of present day Winter Park, as opposed to South Florida Railroad track passing to the west of that town.
TUSKAWILLA was platted in 1874, and so too was Summerlin’s Addition to Orlando. All Brantley needed now was to lay 13 miles of track between these two towns.
Brantley reportedly surveyed 3 miles of track before heading to New York City to arrange rail delivery. That’s when fate intervened, as George C. Brantley died while in New York City, October 22, 1878, 15 months before South Florida Railroad began laying down their track in the direction of Orlando.
On November 11, 1880, the first South Florida Railroad train departed Sanford, rolling into Orlando, Florida later that afternoon, stopping at a depot well to the west of Jake Summerlin’s addition. Eventually, both the Sanford & Indian River Railroad and Florida Midland Railway set sights on the Tuskawilla region, but by then, it was too little too late, as railroads in general were experiencing a financial crisis.
Today, Seminole’s Cross County Trail crosses a portion of the 8,000 acre Mitchell Grant, part of the original 1830s Levy Grant. Along Lake Jesup’s south shore, the trail passes just south of the intersection of Orange Avenue and Tuskawilla Road, remnants of a 19 Century Town of Tuskawilla, a Ghost Town today.
Had George C. Brantley the visionary lived, if his railway line been completed as he had hoped, there is no doubt Central Florida would look very different today.
Each week throughout the summer of 2016, we celebrate the early railroads of Central Florida. But you needn’t wait until Wednesdays to experience Florida railroads. Explore the excellent system of trails built atop old rail beds, and visit Winter Garden’s Railroad Museum on Boyd Street. While touring the museum, pick up a copy of Ghost Towns & Phantom Trains, specially priced during this 2016 Rails & Trails Summer.
STAY TUNED FOR A NEW RAIL, A NEW TRAIL, AND ANOTHER GHOST TOWN!
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