Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The railroad comes to Jackson County, Florida


A train rolls on the L&N through
the Panhandle of Florida.
State Archives of Florida: Memory Collection
The dream of linking Jackson County to larger markets by rail had been in a state of slumber for many years but as the economy surged following the end of Reconstruction, it did not take long for the vision to awaken. On March 4, 1881, under intense lobbying from residents of West Florida, the state legislature approved the incorporation of the Pensacola & Atlantic Railroad. The P&A, as the line was commonly known, was authorized to lay tracks from Pensacola to the Apalachicola River. Jackson County was finally getting its railroad.
The new line quickly found the capital it needed when the Louisville & Nashville Railroad (L&N) purchased $3,000,000 of its bonds and $3,000,000 of its capital stock in exchange for control of the company. This was a pre-arranged deal since both of the P&A’s principal officers were also executives with the L&N. The line, however, retained its P&A name for many years and functioned as a division of the larger company.

Many residents, for good reason, were still skeptical that the railroad would come. They had been let down many times before, but this time things were different. 
Col. W.D. Chipley, the vice president and general superintendent of the P&A, came to Marianna in early August. He offered $50,000 for right of way to build the railroad through the county and also announced plans to buy 2.5 acres for a depot at Marianna. Chipley told community leaders that he needed to hire as many workers as possible:

…The proposition was accepted by our citizens, and the survey of the road by Marianna will be “finished up” at once. The grading between here and Chattahoochee river will begin between the 10th and 15th of December next. All the laborers possible are desired.[i]

The crew poses with L&N #876.
State Archives of Florida/Memory Collection.
Things moved quickly. On September 6, 1881, the Columbus Daily Enquirer reported that contracts had been let for most of the distance between Marianna and Chattahoochee. Two hundred men were already at work clearing the right of way and grading the bed for the tracks. Major William H. Milton was the contractor for the five miles closest to Marianna. By the 20th of that month word reached Columbus that a site for the depot had been selected “between Mrs. White’s and Mrs. Myrick’s.” [ii]
October brought news that 411 men were now at work on the section of the line between the Apalachicola River and Marianna, with “every mile but two having a force on it.” November came with news that a severe drought was affecting Jackson County but that large numbers of hands were passing through Marianna on their way to join the work crews laying the tracks. Twelve miles of track bed had been graded between the county seat and Chattahoochee. 
There was also a report of a violent outbreak in one of the work camps:

…A white man from Gadsden county became involved in a difficulty with a negro some weeks ago. The white man had but one friend with him and that was a colored man from his own county; the rest of the negroes took part for the negro, and the white man was taken out and severely whipped; after which he left the camp and returned to his home. Last Thursday night, as the negroes of this camp were sitting around their fires, they were fired upon by several parties. One negro was killed and several more wounded. The parties who did the shooting are unknown, though suspicion points to the whipped white man and his friends. The negro killed was, unfortunately, the one who befriended the white man. The ringleader in causing the difficulty escaped unhurt. Since this we hear every man has left this camp. The railroad contractor at the time of the first difficulty was absent.[iii]

Marianna's historic 1880s depot as it appeared when still
located near the tracks. It was badly damaged by fire but
moved to its current location on Caledonia Street and restored.
Dale Cox Collection
Despite such incidents, the project moved quickly. The drought dried up creeks and swamps along the route making it easier for workers to prepare the grades and trestles. Even the steamboat lines on the Chattahoochee River, which would soon face competition from the new railroad, pitched in to help. The crew of the steamboat Moore found the machinery for building the bridge over the Apalachicola River hung up on a sand bar below Neal’s Landing. They used a tow line to pull the barge free and sent it down to the construction site at Chattahoochee.[iv]
It took a little over one year to build the railroad line through Jackson County. Crews working from both the east and the west neared Marianna in January of 1883:

The completion of the P.&A. draweth to a close.
We expect to have through trains on next week.
Work on the bridge at Chattahoochee is retarded on account of high water.
The steamer Newton or some other boat will soon be sent to Chattahoochee to be used for transferring purposes.
The track layers from the west expect to take dinner here next Tuesday. Our citizens ought to “set ‘em up.”
Capt. W.D. Chipley, Col. DeFuniak, Chief Engineer Davies and others of the P.&.A.R.R. were in town last week.[v]

Marianna's historic depot building as it appears today. It has
been rotated on its axis. The side facing the right of the
photo actually faced the railroad tracks in its original location.
On February 10, 1883, as was reported in The New York Times, “Pensacola was connected with the Apalachicola River to-day by the completion of the Pensacola and Atlantic Railroad.”[vi]

It would take two more months to complete the bridge over the river at Chattahoochee, but for all practical purposes Jacksonville was now linked to Pensacola by rail. Marianna gained considerable importance as the location of one of only two original depots on the line (the other was Milton). Other communities along the route had to settle for a boxcar parked on a siding instead of a full station of their own, at least for the time being. Stations came to other communities in time.
The building of the P&A had been a dramatic accomplishment. A total of 161 miles of track had been laid across swamps, rivers, creeks and bays from the Apalachicola to Pensacola. Not only that, but the railroad paid black laborers on an equal scale with white laborers with both earning $1.50 per day for their work on the line.
Col. W.D. Chipley
Washington County Historical Society

As was normally the case with privately built railroads, the P&A received massive land grants from the State of Florida. More than 2,830,000 acres of land were transferred to the railroad from the state with the expectation that the company would then sell off or develop the land to recover its expenses in building the line. As the land was sold, new settlements and towns developed bringing widespread economic development to all of West Florida.

The plan worked as expected. Col. Chipley was named land commissioner for the line and by 1897 his efforts had led to the sale of more than 995,000 acres of land for a net of $860,343.65. New towns rapidly grew along the route of the line. In Jackson County, for example, the town of Sneads grew out of what had been the old Pope’s settlement. The railroad also gave birth to the modern towns of Grand Ridge, Cypress and Cottondale. Such places as Chipley, Bonifay, Caryville, Westville, DeFuniak Springs and Crestview also came into existence thanks to the P&A Railroad.





[i] Marianna Courier, quoted by the Columbus Daily Enquirer, August 10, 1881, p. 2.
[ii] Columbus Daily Enquirer, September 6, 1881, p. 4, and September 20, 1881, p. 4.
[iii] Columbus Daily Enquirer, November 1, 1881, p. 4.
[iv] Columbus Daily Enquirer, November 26, 1881, p. 4.
[v] Marianna Courier quoted by the Columbus Daily Enquirer, January 24, 1883, p. 4.
[vi] The New York Times, February 11, 1883.
[vii] Columbus Daily Enquirer, March 13, 1883, p. 4.
[viii] Greg Turner, A Short History of Florida Railroads, Arcadia Publishing, 2003, p. 86.


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