Tuesday, June 16, 2009
The Historic Tallahassee-St. Marks Railroad
I've mentioned the old Tallahassee-St. Marks Railroad before due to its connection to the Battle of Natural Bridge on March 6, 1865.
The railroad, however, was an important transportation route throughout the Civil War and was one of the few railroads in the South that continued to operate without interruption from 1861-1865.
The Tallahassee-St. Marks Railroad was the second such line to begin operation in Florida. When the trains began running in 1836, it stretched from Tallahassee south to Port Leon, then an important port on the lower St. Marks River. The train cars were originally pulled by mules because the railroad was ready for operation before locomotives could be manufactured and arrive.
Port Leon was soon destroyed by hurricane and St. Marks became the southern terminus of the railroad. From 1836 until 1861, the trains rain daily back and forth between the capital city and the coast twenty miles away. Shipments of cotton, lumber, naval stores and passengers went down to the port while returning trains brought passengers and a wide variety of items brought to St. Marks by shallow draft steamer and schooner. Since Tallahassee had no source of water transportation, the railroad brought virtually everthing needed for the development of the city, from pre-fabricated houses to window panes, doorknobs to furniture, food and medicine.
When the war broke out in 1861, the cargo carried by the trains diminished as the Union blockade grew tighter, but official records indicate that blockade runners continued to slip out of the port of St. Marks until the end of the war. As these went out with cargoes of cotton and naval stores, they came back in with loads of military supplies, medicine and other necessities.
The Tallahassee-St. Marks line also carried troops back and forth from the coast to Tallahassee, as well as to a number of Confederate camps established along the railroad. Among these was Camp Leon, an important training camp south of Tallahassee.
The railroad is now a major "rails to trails" project that features a paved trail following the old rail bed from the southern edge of Tallahassee all the way to the waterfront at St. Marks. To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/tallahasseerr.