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Central Florida History


By Richard Lee Cronin


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          by Richard  Lee Cronin     


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The VETERANS Railroad at Mellonville

SANFORD, on Lake Monroe, is typically considered the birthplace of Central Florida’s railroad. South Florida Railroad began running trains between Sanford and ORLANDO November 11, 1880, but organizers had begun planning a Lake Monroe to Tampa train one entire decade earlier, in March, 1870. Among the earlier organizers was a gentleman who had already constructed Florida’s first-ever train.
The story of Central Florida’s first railroad remained buried in newspaper archives until only recently. While collaborating with Sanford researcher Christine Kinlaw-Best, a Director at Sanford Historical Society, she happened upon an 1870 newspaper article that altered what was thought to be the history of railroading in this region.
Christine and I had been researching Matthew R. Marks, an early Florida pioneer, and the man’s involvement with Fort Reid’s Orange House Hotel. Also known by its Indian name, ALAHA CHACO, it had been said that the Orange House was the first hotel built south of Lake Monroe. In the land of hotels today, the first-ever is truly historic!
Dated April 6, 1870, the article Christine Kinlaw-Best had located not only spoke of Fort Reid’s Orange House Hotel though, at two miles south of MELLONVILLE, it mentioned too that the hotel had been a meeting place, on March 3, 1870, of those incorporating the “Upper St. Johns, Mellonville, Tampa & South Florida Railroad.”
Ten (10) years before the first South Florida Railroad train departed Sanford in 1880, planners had gathered a mile to the east of Sanford at Fort Reid, a gathering intended to organize central Florida’s first inland train to run between Lake Monroe and Tampa.
A predecessor to Sanford’s 1880 train had been known – to an extent. In February of 1880, the directors of ‘Mellonville & Orlando Railroad,’ of which Joseph Finegan was President, conveyed their State franchise right-of-way to South Florida Railroad.
Joseph Finegan was one and the same as Florida Brigadier General Joseph J. Finegan, builder of Florida’s first railroad – a sea-to-sea railway, connecting the Atlantic Ocean near Jacksonville with Cedar Key on the Gulf of Mexico. Finegan completed the State’s first railroad prior to the Civil War. Other directors involved with the Mellonville & Orlando Railroad of 1880 were Michael J. Doyle of Mellonville; Dr. W. A. Spence of Fort Reid; and Bolling Baker of Maitland.
Joseph J. Finegan and Michael J. Doyle had also been involved a decade earlier as organizers of the Upper St. Johns, Mellonville, & Tampa Railroad. In 1870, other planners included Arthur Ginn and Matthew R. Marks of Mellonville; William Watson and Jacob Brock of Enterprise; Matthew A. Stewart of Apopka; as well as John T. Leslie and Charles Moore of Tampa. The Honorable William M. Randolph, of Fort Reid, Fort Gatlin and New Orleans, Louisiana, was yet another organizer.
Each individual involved with the first central Florida railroad had one thing in common besides railroading, as each was also a Veterans of the Confederacy, a group of retired warriors who then joined together in an attempt to start over in central Florida.
At that March 1870 meeting, a motion was approved authorizing Matthew R. Marks to journey north to New York City, with his end-game being to raise cash to build their new railroad. Perhaps you recall, from part one of this series, that George C. Brantley died in 1878 at New York City, there hoping to buy rails for his Tuskawilla to Orlando train. Matthew R. Marks though survived his New York City visit, but the railroad he and fellow Southern investors hoped to build, did not.
The Lake Monroe to Tampa railroad of 1870 died as a result of a law suit filed by a New Yorker named FRANCIS VOSE. Within nine (9) months of that Fort Reid organization meeting, on the 6 day of December, 1870, VOSE, a holder of pre-Civil War railroad bonds, obtained an injunction, restraining the State from using public land for further railroad construction until he was paid in full. Francis VOSE held $211,885 in past due bonds on Florida railroads constructed before the War.
The Court injunction derailed plans for Central Florida’s first railroad, a train that was to be built by Confederate Veterans of America’s Civil War. Instead, the South Florida Railroad Company, organized by Union Veterans of America’s Civil War, built Central Florida’s first railroad during 1880.
Stay tuned, a new RAILS & TRAILS, with another GHOST TOWN or two, picks up where we left off next Wednesday, sponsored by ‘Ghost Towns & Phantom Trains’ a Novel based on true Central Florida 19 century railroads.

Kindle Unlimited members read this book FREE, but all summer long, Central Florida Railroad Museum at Winter Garden, and Bookmark it Orlando book stores, have print copies available at a special discounted price of only $15.00. It’s all a part of a RAILS & TRAILS SUMMER 2016 Series.

3 Comments to The VETERANS Railroad at MELLONVILLE:

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