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1: Introduction

Acknowledgements || 2: Jacksonville and Atlantic Railroad >>

I. Introduction

Powerful men in Jacksonville (I have named them Beach Railroad Men) founded and operated short line railroads from the east side of the St Johns River either from South Jacksonville or Arlington to the ocean shore in the 1880s and 1890s. They hoped to earn a profit from the Jacksonville & Atlantic (which connected South Jacksonville to their settlement of Pablo Beach) and the Jacksonville, Mayport, and Pablo (which connected Arlington to the Atlantic Ocean at the short-lived Burnside Beach). They also wanted to get to the shore easily to escape the city's heat in the summer. Neither railroad survived per se. It was only the multi-millionaire Henry M. Flagler who managed to reorganize and operate one for several decades before it also disappeared. This essay is a look at the men behind the railroads not of the railroads themselves although the study contains most of what we actually know of the roads themselves.

Florida was fertile ground for ambitious men. It had almost no railroads in 1880; Jacksonville, its boom town, had only one in spite of it being the city though which most goods and passengers passed. Railroads could move people and goods fast and cheaply so many were bring built though out the country. Jacksonville was no exception for it was the essential entrepôt for people and goods entering Florida. New money exploited the possibilities and opportunities presented by Jacksonville. Timbering, naval stores, and real estate development were creating fortunes for ambitious and daring men. The governments of the United States and of Florida gave public land to corporations to build railroads for they were land rich and capital poor. Such public-private partnerships were common in U.S. history. That some men got rich was just an incentive. Most of the railroads from Jacksonville went west and south.

Jacksonville in 1880 was primitive by today's standards. The city government performed the common municipal services such as police and fire protection and garbage disposal. The unpaved streets were cleaned but not swept. The sidewalks in the business district were made of wood with a few paved with stone. There was no public transportation nor sewer system. Waste disposal included chamber pots, privy-vaults, privies, boxes, barrels, and much burning of whichever waste could be incinerated. Ashes would be used for fertilizer. Infectious diseases were always a threat, particularly yellow fever. People with smallpox were segregated from the general population for the duration of the disease but not those with scarlet fever. Vaccination was voluntary. The city authorities had the power to close schools in case of an epidemic. The city owned the water works but the gas works were private and the city government paid $2,212 a year for the gas for its street lights. The city leased the grounds for the municipal market of about 100 square feet and tried to insure sanitary conditions since this was the primary source of meat and vegetables. Only one public park, an acre in size, existed. Jacksonville lay entirely on the west side of the St Johns River in a very small area. It grew by annexation and well as by immigration.[1] The two maps below show Jacksonville itself in 1880 and Jacksonville with its suburbs in 1884.

Jacksonville, 1880 with the river at the bottom

Map of Jacksonville, 1884, Presented by Jacksonville, Tampa & Key West Railway Company

J.T. & K. W. Depot; S. F. & W. Depot


South Presbyterian Church

F. C. & W. Depot


North Presbyterian Church

Astor Building; Office of the J.T. & K. W. Ry.


M. E. Church

Custom House


Windsor Hotel

Ambler's Bank


Congregational Church

Post Office


St. James Hotel

Florida Y. C. House


St. Joseph Convent

F & J Depot


Catholic Church

Carleton Hotel


Methodist Church

St. Mark's Hotel


St. John's Episcopal Church

Metropolitan Hall


St. Luke's Hospital

First National Bank


Baptist Church

Disston Land Co.; Bank of Jacksonville


Ebenezer M. E. Church

Elmwood House


Cookmen Institute (Colored)

Everett Hotel


Lutheran Church

Jacksonville Hotel


Public School

Sunnyside Hotel


County Jail

Duval Hotel


African M. E. Church

Public Library



St. John's House


First African Baptist Church

Tremont House


Gas Works

Mattair House


Grand View Hotel

Florida Savings Bank


Park Theatre

Court House and Records

Most of the men in this study lived in LaVilla, East Jacksonville, and Springfield but most lived within Jacksonville itself. Although difficult to see on this scale, office buildings, churches, docks, and Hemming Park are shown on this map. Their banks existed within a few blocks of each other as the map shows: Ambler's Bank (5), First National Bank (12), Bank of Jacksonville (13), Disston Land Company (13) which was in the same building as the Bank of Jacksonville, and the Florida Saving Bank (23). Brooklyn, to the south of LaVilla, ceased being land after the Civil War to be developed into a residential neighborhood; its southern portion was sold and became Riverside. Brooklyn was annexed by Jacksonville in 1887. Oakland was primarily an African American community. Hanson Town was a primarily agricultural area which was an African American community.

My approach is to include brief biographical snippets and photographs of the officers and major stockholders of the two Jacksonville-owned railroads, when possible. In other words, my interest is who was working on the railroad at the highest levels, who had the audacity to invest capital in such enterprises. The research involved a vast array of sources as indicated by the bibliography. Too often, I was unable to find biographical material of an images other than en entry in a city directory. Henry M. Flagler is the subject of many studies; he is included here because he bought and converted the Jacksonville & Atlantic.

The men in this study sought escape from the summer heat by retreating to the beach and its breezes as well as the hope of earning even more money. In the spirit of the times, railroads seemed the solution to crossing the broad St Johns River to South Jacksonville and then to travel across scrub land, marshes, and creeks to reach the beach. There were sand or dirt roads or trails but travel on them was arduous A railroad would add value to beach land was virtually worthless until a reliable means of getting there was found, one that would allow one to cross creeks, marshes, a small river, and scrub easily.

Legally, these men were involved in one or more of four railroad corporations—the Arlington and Atlantic Railway Company (1882), the Jacksonville and Atlantic Railroad Company (1882-1893), the Jacksonville, Mayport, and Pablo Railway and Navigation Company (1886-1895) and the Jacksonville and Atlantic Railway (1893-1899—but then there were only two because some were the same road but under different names. The JM&P and the others; the ownership and management changed according to the vicissitudes of the time. This essay focuses on the men who were directors of the various companies before Henry M. Flagler bought the narrow gauge Jacksonville and Atlantic to reach a river port where coal for his engines was offloaded. His Beach/Mayport Branch of the Florida East Coast Railway (1899-1932) is briefly considered since it closed the railroad era of the Jacksonville Beaches. A chapter is devoted to each railroad with the one on the Florida East Coast Railway branch to the beach and Mayport to show what professional railroad men encountered.

1888 Map of Duval County, FL showing the two beach railroads

[1] George E. Waring, Jr. Report on the Social Statistics of the Cities, Part II The Southern and Western States (Washington: Bureau of the Census, 1887), pp. 181-184.

Acknowledgements || 2: Jacksonville and Atlantic Railroad >>