HISTORY OF PASCO COUNTY

Railroads

This 1888 map shows the Orange Belt line


A Railroad Ran Through It (2002)

This article appeared in the Tampa Tribune on Oct. 18, 2002.

By CAROLE JEFFARES HEDMAN

SAN ANTONIO – The crowds have been coming for 35 years on the third weekend of October to this otherwise tranquil community where folks still gather for homespun fun.

Thousands are expected to be here Saturday and Sunday as the 36th San Antonio Rattlesnake Festival gets under way in City Park.

The festival will feature the usual snake shows and gopher tortoise races that put San Antonio on the sightseers' map.

But for a short time in the 1970s, a group of entrepreneurs hoped to bring others to the community to experience a different tourist attraction.

It was called the Orange Belt Railroad, named for the original railway system that came through these parts in the 1880s.

The original Orange Belt Railroad was chartered in 1885 by three men who wanted to build a 35-mile, narrow-gauge railroad line from Lake Monroe, part of the St. Johns River, to Lake Apopka.

The men purchased $9,400 worth of crossties from Russian immigrant Peter Demens at his sawmill in Longwood. But when they were unable to pay, Demens took possession of the railroad, according to a booklet on railroads by the late Rev. Marion Bowman, former abbot of Saint Leo Abbey.

Demens formed Orange Belt Investment Co., borrowing money from friends and floating a $50,000 bond issue to complete the road to Oakland, a city east of Clermont.

Five days after Demens completed the tracks to Oakland in 1886, he received a charter to extend the railroad 110 miles farther to St. Petersburg, via San Antonio.

With funding from the Armour meat packing family in Chicago, the line was extended from Trilby to San Antonio on the way to St. Petersburg. The first train, hauling construction materials, arrived in San Antonio on Nov. 27, 1887. The first passenger train didn't pass through San Antonio until Feb. 13, 1888.

A depot was built at San Antonio a short time after the railroad came through. It was about a mile west of where the depot stands today on Railroad Avenue, off Curley Street.

Demens continued to own the Orange Belt Railroad until 1893, when it was taken over by railroad baron Henry Plant. Plant replaced the old-style system with standard gauge in 1896 and operated it under the names Sanford and St. Petersburg Railway and Florida Central and Peninsular Railroad.

Atlantic Coast Line then acquired the line in 1902 and served San Antonio for nearly 75 years.

The St. Leo Depot had been built in 1890 and lasted 15 years, despite pleas from the abbot at Saint Leo Abbey to improve it. In 1906, Atlantic Coast Line built a new depot 500 feet north of the first station on the west side of the track. That station lasted until 1927.

It was at that time that San Antonio changed its name to the City of Lake Jovita.

The change was proposed by W. E. Currie, who was building a golf course on property northwest of what was then Saint Leo College. The change was supported by builder Lucius Herrmann whose son, the Rev. Stephen Herrmann, later became college president. Currie and Herrmann both had problems with building materials being shipped, even from Tampa, to San Antonio, Texas.

During the Florida land boom the word “beach” and other descriptions were added to make cities sound more enticing to visitors. City fathers thought “Lake Jovita” was more appealing than “San Antonio.”

The abbot also agreed to give up the depot at St. Leo to allow a new station to be built at Lake Jovita east of the old San Antonio station, a few hundred yards in the direction of the college.

Railroad workers burned down the old St. Leo Depot in July 1927. After five years as Lake Jovita, San Antonio was returned to its original name.

And the Lake Jovita Depot became the San Antonio Depot. But it burned in the late 1940s, said Eddie Herrmann, grandson of Lucius Herrmann and a Pasco County historian.

Eddie Herrmann recalled how he and his mother, Rose, went to the fire and sprayed water on gas tanks across the street from the depot to keep them from exploding. They saved the tanks belonging to his father, Joe Herrmann, who was away that night.

But Herrmann’s truck and tractor tires, along with baskets used for shipping fruit, which were stored at the depot, were destroyed.

The cause of the fire was unknown for years. But in later years a former depot agent received a confession from an old railroad employee who said he started the fire with a errant flare.

The depot was rebuilt in 1949 and continued to serve San Antonio until 1972, when service was discontinued. Atlantic Coastline had merged with Seaboard Air Line Railroad in 1967 to become Seaboard Coast Line.

The building was left abandoned and forgotten until a group of Tampa residents organized under the name of Robert Most and Associates tried to revive the depot as headquarters for their railroad excursion in 1976.

Operating as Orange Belt Railroad, the train pulled passengers on a 90-minute round- trip from San Antonio to Blanton on weekends and holidays, beginning in mid-1976. The last trip was Feb. 21, 1978.

In 1979, the fair authority deeded the depot to San Antonio.

Through city and volunteer efforts, the depot was restored. It is used as a community meeting room and is leased to Rattlesnake and Gopher Enthusiasts Inc., the nonprofit group that hosts the Rattlesnake Festival, for storage.

The depot will be the start and finish point for Saturday’s Rattlesnake Run, 5- and 1-mile footraces.


Detail from a 1915 map.

The full 1915 map, a part of which appears above, is here.

A 1907 schedule of the Tampa Northern and Brooksville & Hudson Railroad is here.

The August 1893 Orange Belt Railroad schedule is here.

Some pictures of the New Port Richey railroad depot are here.

A web site about the Orange Belt Railway is at www.taplines.net/March/obstory1.htm.

See Tom Pavluvcik’s web site at http://tampabaytrains.com/. It includes a link his book Pinellas County Railroad History in Pictures, which is available in its entirety on line. His railroad photos are at www.flickr.com/photos/palmateer. Included there is a simplified map showing the location of the Victor (later Stauffer) chemical plant on the north bank of the Anclote River, and its connections to the area's two railroad companies after 1946 here.


Railroads

This article is taken from West Pasco’s Heritage.

By JANET LEWIS

As the only alternative to travel by oxen, wagon and horseback, Florida developed some of the earliest railroads in the nation. Although we think of the railroad as existing only by means of government subsidy, it should be noted that the early Florida railroads paid their owners very well and were most successful. The primary reason, of course, was that the tracks were of very short mileage and were laid between towns in close proximity to one another. The movement of cotton and other staple crops by railroads to the ports on the Gulf and Tampa Bay insured the success of these systems.

In Bulletin No. 86, published by the Railway and Locomotive Historical Society, in 1952, the compiler, George W. Pettengill, speaks of what he describes as one of Florida’s forgotten railroads. The Brooksville and Hudson Railroad. The initial construction of this railroad which was actually an incorporated logging railroad, seems to have begun in the spring of 1902. In May of that year, a line of four foot, nine inch gauge railroad was opened, sixteen and one-sixth miles, from Brooksville to Mayflower and a four mile branch from Wiscon to Freeman.

The main line was ultimately built westward to the town of Hudson, on the Gulf Coast and the Freeman branch extended northward to Tooke Lake, making a total operated mileage of thirty-three and one half miles. The Brooksville and Hudson Railroad, which was originally owned by the Aripeka Saw Mills Inc., was established as a common carrier railroad in 1904 and possessed two locomotives, two passenger cars and five freight cars. The road continued to operate for several years subsequent to 1902, interchanging traffic with the Plant system at Brooksville. The records of the Florida Power Commission shows that there is no actual record in incorporation or of capital stock and that its proposed route probably grew out of the lumber needs of the area. It does show, however, that it was purchased by the Tampa Northern Railroad Company in 1911 and later sold to the Seaboard Air Line Railway Company in 1925.

It is evident that Pasco and Hernando Counties would have developed much faster if some of the proposed railroads born only on paper had materialized. The Anclote and Indian River Railroad Company was incorporated in 1883, with a capital stock of one million, five hundred thousand dollars. Its proposed route stretched from the Anclote River to Indian River. The Blue and Silver Springs Railroad Company was incorporated in 1872, with capital stock of three hundred thousand dollars. It was intended to cross Central Florida from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. Brooksville, Hudson and Tampa Bay Railroad Company (not to be confused with the Brooksville and Hudson Railroad) incorporated in 1902 at a capital stock of three hundred thousand dollars and its proposed route ran from Brooksville to Tampa.

The Tampa and Gulf Coast Railway Company, incorporated in 1909 with a capital stock of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars, built a railroad from Lutz in upper Hillsborough County to Tarpon Springs in Pinellas County, a distance of twenty miles. In 1913, the Tampa and Gulf Coast Railroad Company acquired the holdings of this railway company and it was leased to the Seaboard Air Line Railway in 1927. This projection which in the West Pasco Area was known as the Tampa and Gulf Coast Railroad, entered New Port Richey from the south, running parallel with Main Street on which is now Nebraska Avenue and terminating at the railroad depot at what is now the corner of Boulevard South and Nebraska Avenue.

Further research on the route of the Tampa and Gulf Coast Railroad into New Port Richey reveals that the railroad actually entered the city of New Port Richey from the South, running parallel to what is now State Road 595, and crossed the river in the area of present day Lafayette Street. The railroad proceeded in a northerly course into the area that is now known as South Boulevard and Nebraska Avenue making a slight curve to the east and south and circling into the area where the Ellis Security Bank now stands. The railroad had a small classification yard which extended as far east as Jefferson Street and Nebraska Avenue. It was also equipped with a turn-a-round, located to the south of the city, approximately in the section now known as Dodge City. It would appear that once the train reached the New Port Richey Terminal, it was forced to back up to the turn-a-round. before it could proceed south to join the main line at Tarpon Springs.

Coming north from Tarpon Springs, some of the railroad line may yet be seen and part of it is still in use as a right of way for the work trains. It follows the old Dixie Highway running directly into the Cement Industry located at the junction of State Road 54 and 595. The old freight warehouse is still standing in that vicinity and the tracks run through the cement plant. Of course, one of the highlights of interest in the days of steam in New Port Richey was to be part of the welcoming committee which always met the trains as they arrived at the railroad station.

The Railroads of Florida
Florida Railroad and Public Utilities Commission, 1939
Manual of Florida Railroads, compiled and edited by George Pettengill, St. Petersburg
Florida in the Making, by F. P. Stockbridge. p. 135


A 1920 map


Suncoast Had a History of Rickety Railways

This article appeared in the Suncoast News in August 1988.

By GLEN DILL

My father was a New York Central man, so I've been a train man since I was four years old back in Cleveland and Berea, Ohio. My interest in trains has continued here in Florida since 1934. As an historian, I've been saddened by the death of railroads everywhere.

As elsewhere, there used to be dozens of railroads here in Central Florida, and dozens more were planned that never did get rolling.

Lots of people had grandiose plans. Today we will look at the area spreading fan-like for about 10 miles out east from Tarpon Springs, from whence came the little Orange Belt Line in 1887.

Actually, the Orange Belt was a spur which left the Atlantic Coast Line at Sanford, and traveled southeasterly to Tarpon Springs. It was sort of a Toonerville Trolley of the train world, and had an incredible origin. It was the creation of a Russian nobleman, known best to us as Peter A. Demens. His actual name was Piotr Alexandrovitch Dementieff. He had found the Czarist tyranny in Russia too uncongenial so he emigrated to Florida and built a small sawmill near Sanford. Running out of lumber, and having salvaged a bit of rickety rolling stock, he decided to build a railroad heading toward Tampa Bay and ending at Mullet Key (now Ft. DeSoto Park).

Demens began bravely with his two old wood-burning engines, his three yellow cars, and his worn out narrow gauge track. As the tracks were laid, they headed through Pasco County and toward their first main town, Tarpon Springs.

Demons was beset by all of the production mishaps which could plague an amateur railroader, and he arranged for some fantastic financing which left him in debt to some Philadelphia capitalists. At one time his creditors chained his locomotives to the tracks, and at another time his unpaid track-laying crew stormed after him on a hand car, planning to lynch him.

After Demons got his trains to Tarpon Springs and helped it grow, he finally went on to St. Petersburg with his railroad in 1888. At the tiny town, he flipped a coin with top citizen John Williams, won, and thus named it St. Petersburg after his Russian birthplace. Williams then named his new hotel after his hometown, Detroit. By 1891, with not enough business for his railroad, Demens went broke. The road soon became part of the Plant system. They put in standard size tracks, but otherwise neglected it, and in 1902 it became part of the ACL, which put on fast, luxury Pullman service for the Florida boom. It was great for years. As car, bus, and planes took more passengers, in 1970 the passenger train service was discontinued.

Another interesting railroad, mostly east of Tarpon Springs, was the Tampa and Gulf Coast. Its initials provided the fun name of the Tug and Grunt Railroad. It began as Chicago men were starting Citrus Park in 1911. One of their surveyors played a big part in both projects. He was Elaja Spivey, who bought 40 acres in the area in 1893, and moved down from Pasco County in 1903. The T & G tracks were parallel to his acreage on the west side. He then gave the railroad land on the east side of the tracks, just north of the present intersection of Gunn Highway and Sheldon Road.

The T & G then built a small building with a bench for waiting passengers, a platform for freight, and a small spur track. The area farmers would receive fertilizer by the rail cars as well as other supplies. The stop was soon named after Spivey, and is still listed that way on some maps today. Spivey also got the contract to supply wood for the train engines, which he sub-contracted to Frank Peterson, who would place the wood in a rack just north of the tiny station, near the tracks. Nearby also were two turpentine stills, whose laborers were mostly from a nearby camp for convicts.

A few miles away was another train stop, at the busy Citrus Park Mercantile Co. The store was built in 1911 by the Chicagoans, followed by the North Tampa land Co., which built the famous Little Red Schoolhouse which is still standing today. There were four passenger stops daily, one round trip Tarpon Springs to Tampa, and one round trip Tampa to Tarpon Springs, plus a freight train stop.

The Tampa & Gulf Coast Railroad also went to 5-A Junction on S.R. 52 just west of S. R. 41, then through the present Land O' Lakes into Lutz, Gulf Pine, Cosme, Lake Fern, Citrus Park, and on into Tarpon Junction (near present Linebaugh Avenue and Wilsky Boulevard). In this 1913-14 period, the T & G also ran up to New Port Richey, where their tiny station was built downtown in 1914. When the trains arrived twice weekly, the whole town turned out to see and greet the passengers.


This 2005 photo shows evidence of where the railroad crossed the river in New Port Richey


The Saga of Orange Belt

This article is excerpted from an article in a Pioneer Florida Museum Association booklet.

On February 17, 1880, the imperial dining room of the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia, was blown up by terrorists. This event and the political events which were to follow caused Peter A. Dementief (founder of the present city of St. Petersburg, Florida) a Russian aristocrat to leave his home in Russia. He came to Florida to try his hand at owning and operating a lumber mill.

Mr. Demons (as he later called himself) discovered the only way to get his lumber out of Florida was by rail. He began his operation during the time Henry Plant was opening up the Port Tampa area. Port Tampa at that time only had five feet of water and severely restricted the type of vessel and the weight of the cargo that could enter it.

Peter knew that the area around the present city of St. Petersburg had at least 18 feet of water. He decided that by running a railroad from St. Petersburg north, he could not only transport his lumber but could transport a tremendous amount of citrus this area was producing. With an 18 foot deep harbor he could import and export cargo that Port Tampa could not handle.

The Orange Belt began operation in 1885, running from St. Petersburg to Sanford, Florida. Its chief claim at this time was the fact that it was the longest narrow gauge railroad in the United States.

Plagued by financial problems, the Orange Belt was taken over by a syndicate in 1889. The ruinous freezes during the winter of 1894-95 killed many of the citrus groves in Florida and dealt the railroad a disastrous blow. Within two weeks after the freeze, the syndicate leased the railroad for 10 years to Henry Plant. He incorporated this into his system that was already operating out of Tampa. The name was changed to the Sanford & St. Petersburg. Thus ended the Orange Belt as it was first known.


Two Rivals: The Coast Line and the Seaboard

The following is taken from A Short History of Florida Railroads by Gregg Turner.

During 1909, the seaboard opened a big marine facility at Tampa’s Seddon Island. The Tampa Terminal Company managed its activities, including the loading of phosphate and bulk cargo. Three years later, the Seaboard purchased the Tampa Northern Railroad, a 49-mile line that connected Tampa with Fivay and Brooksville. Service to Fivay had begun in 1907. The Seaboard purchased and rebuilt portions of a logging line owned by the Aripeka Saw Mill Company in order to reach Brooksville. The Aripeka line from Brooksville to Tooke Lake was acquired by the Tampa Northern in 1911. Another purchase extended the Seaboard’s reach from Tooke Lake into nearby Centralia.

President Warfield allowed the Seaboard to acquire another Tampa firm in 1913: the Tampa & Gulf Coast Railroad. The latter traded its existence to the Gulf Pine Lumber Company, which had constructed a logging line from Lutz (on the Tampa Northern Railroad 15 miles north of Tampa), west to Lake Fern and Gulf Pine—where the firm’s sawmill was located. After buying the firm, the Tampa & Gulf Coast extended rails beyond Gulf Pine to the sponge capital of Tarpon Springs. In 1912, the T&GC absorbed the line of J. M. Weeks, which ran from Tarpon Springs to Port Richey. All these endeavors, however, strained the company’s treasury. A year later, a reorganized Tampa & Gulf Coast Railroad emerged with the Seaboard firmly in control. The latter then installed a 47-mile branch from Sulphur Springs (on the Tampa Northern Railroad) to Clearwater and St. Petersburg. Along the route at Tarpon Junction, rails were laid north to Lake Fern, allowing the leg coming in from Lutz to be abandoned. Another appendage was built on the Pinellas Peninsula in 1915 to Indian Rocks Beach—greatly favored by Tampa residents due to its proximity. In the end, the so-called “Orange Belt Route” ran from Gulf Coast Junction (near Sulphur Springs) to Clearwater and St. Petersburg, plus operated branches to Port Richey, Tarpon Springs, and Indian Rocks Beach. At Gulf Coast Junction, trains were switched onto the Tampa Northern Railroad so they could reach Tampa proper.


New Port Richey News Item (1943)

This article appeared in the St. Petersburg Evening Independent on May 3, 1943. According to Florida Cracker Days, the New Port Richey depot closed on April 25, 1943.

Office equipment and depot effects of the local Seaboard railway depot were removed recently following the closing of this office. Last Tuesday a force of railway track workers started digging up the rails and ties. It was the culmination of the Interstate Commerce commission’s order permitting the Seaboard to abandon that portion of their line running between here and Elfers, a distance of about two miles. It is understood that the depot building will be put up for sale.

The Seaboard, or to use its official name for the short line, Gulf Coast railway, has operated here since 1916. Insufficient revenue was claimed by the railway at the hearing held prior to the abandonment order. The express and freight shipping point for New Port Richey by rail is now Elfers, two miles south.

Miss Letha Goheen, who has been the agent for the railway company and Railway Express here since 1923, and whose job thus terminated with the closing of the depot, had no announcement to make of her future plans, but she will remain in the city for a while pending future employment.

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