Saturday, August 16, 2014

#65 The forgotten Penn-Jarratt Railroad (100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida)

A Baldwin 4-4-0 locomotive
State Archives of Florida/Memory Collection
A long-forgotten railroad that ran up the west side of the Chipola River from Marianna to the Alabama state line is #65 on our list of 100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida.

Please click here to see the complete list as it is unveiled.

Near the western border of Florida Caverns State Park and within sight of Blue Hole Spring, the bed of an abandoned railroad cuts through a limestone outcrop before continuing north out of the park. The story of this railroad was almost completely forgotten, but with help from Sue Tindel and Robert Earl Standland of the office of Jackson County Clerk of Courts Dale Guthrie, Pat Crisp of the Chipola Historical Trust and Billy Bailey of Florida Caverns State Park, the facts can now be brought to light.

Billy Bailey of Florida Caverns State Park points out
old cross-ties in the bed of the Penn-Jarratt Railroad
Lumber was a hot commodity in the United States during the first years of the 20th century. The red cypress and other hardwood trees growing along the upper Chipola River were of enormous value and great profits stood to be made by the company that could fell them and bring them out of the swamps.

A 640 acre tract in Marianna was home to multiple sawmills and lumber operations, among them the Jarratt Lumber Corporation. This firm had come into existence in 1910 when it purchased the assets of clearly related Jarratt Brothers Lumber Company. By 1920 it had merged with another timber interest to become Penn-Jarratt Lumber.

The bed of the railroad cuts through limestone at
Florida Caverns State Park.
The firm leased timber rights to thousands of acres along the Chipola River and employed then revolutionary technologies in its harvesting and milling techniques. Steam-powered skidders were used to drag massive logs of cypress, gum, oak and other hardwoods from the floodplain swamps. These machines replaced the ox carts and manual labor of previous times.

To move the logs to its mills at Marianna, the firm operated a 20-mile long railroad that extended from the L&N (today's CSX) all the way up to the Alabama state line.

Logging railroads were not uncommon in Northwest Florida, but the Jarratt line was unique in that it employed the use of full-size trains instead of the smaller locomotives often used on such lines.

Baldwin 4-4-0 locomotive
State Archives of Florida/Memory Collection
One of its locomotives, for example, was a massive steam-powered Baldwin 4-4-0 purchased from the Alabama, Florida & Gulf  (AF&G) railroad in 1917. That line operated passenger and freight trains that ran from the Dothan vicinity south to Malone and eventually Greenwood.

Jarratt found itself in considerable legal difficulty when the company decided to run its tracks along the rights-of-way of public roads in places.  A court case decided in 1917 that railroads could be held liable for using public roadways and for damage to adjacent properties.

The trains ran on the Jarratt line until around 1932 when the last of the old growth timber had been cleared from the upper Chipola River. The mills closed and the company's property holdings were sold for taxes, a common practice employed by lumber companies in those days to dispose of land once they no longer had use for it.

Section of the railroad bed.
Sections of the old railroad bed are still visible at Florida Caverns State Park and on the adjacent lands of the Northwest Florida Water Management District.

The tracks connected with the L&N where Orange Avenue crosses the CSX tracks in Marianna today. From there they ran to the west of the old Marianna High School Campus and followed Carters Mill Road and Fish Hatchery Road into Florida Caverns State Park. A deep section of railroad bed can be seen near Blue Hole Spring adjacent to the equestrian trails in the park.

The tracks crossed through the parking area for the
Bellamy Bridge Heritage Trail on Highway 162.
From Florida Caverns, the railroad continued up the west side of the Chipola, crossing Waddell's Mill Creek on a trestle and passing through what is now the parking area for the Bellamy Bridge Heritage Trail at Highway 162.

The tracks ran from there up the west side of the river and Forks of the Creek all the way to Alabama. Although the rails were removed after the railroad ceased operation, some of the cross-ties can still be seen.

The long forgotten railroad of the Penn-Jarratt Lumber Company is #65 on our list of 100 Great Things about Jackson County, Florida.



1 comment:

bkf said...

When I was a little girl and living in Grangeburg, Al, we played on the dirt road where the RR track still lay hidden in the brushes parallel to Hwy 53. I wonder if any of it is still left today.