Written by Henry C. Frey of Stuart, Florida, and published in the Orlando Sentinel on Monday, March 5, 1956.
First Railroad Chartered in 1875
Editor: Orlando’s first railroad was unique. It was the first and only railroad to this day, owned and financed by a newspaper.
In 1875 the Lake Monroe and Orlando R. R. was chartered by the State of Florida. The general idea was to have a railroad to connect the St. Johns with Charlotte Harbor. Nothing came of this until 1879 when the Lake Monroe was re-organized as the South Florida R. R.
Prime movers in the venture were Dr. C. C. Haskell of Maitland and E. W. Henck of Longwood. Dr. Haskell had a brother E. B. Haskell who was the publisher of the Boston Herald. A publicity campaign put on by that paper produced the capital to build the 23-mile narrow gauge road from Sanford to Orlando.
The first officers were E. W. Henck, pres.; Dr. Haskell, treas.; E. I. Crofts, sec. and F.A. Tucker, chief engineer. Work was begun early in 1880 and was pushed through vigorously so that the rails reached Orlando by Oct. 1, 1880.
A gala train signaled the opening on Oct. 2 and a train of flat cars was hauled from Sanford to Orlando with much noise and conviviality. Some of the flat cars had benches and some didn’t so the crowds had to hang on the best they could. No one was h urt and at Orlando a huge barbecue furnished the entertainment. Someone brought along a small cannon and this was loaded with powder and moss and was fired off at appropriate intervals to provide noise.
Regular service was commenced on Nov. 12, 1880 and there were scheduled stops at Wilcox, Osceola, Maitland, Snows, Longwood, Soldier Creek, Belair and Sanford. There was one train a day that took one hour and 40 minutes to make the run; when on time, which wasn’t often at the start off. By 1882, the road was extended to Kissimmee and in 1883 three fifths of the ownership was sold to the Plant system and thenceforward it was identified with the Plant system.
Are there any residents today in Orlando who remember the old South Florida?