With the addition of a replica train depot to the Pioneer Village at Shingle Creek, we reflect back on the important role the rail system played in Osceola County since that first train rolled into Kissimmee one hundred, thirty four years ago.
Rail transportation existed in Florida prior to 1861 but it took until 1882 for it to reach Osceola County. A narrow gauge (three feet wide) line was extended from Sanford to Kissimmee and the first train brought many passengers who became permanent residents. The rails first ran down Broadway, but were later moved to the lake shore area to accommodate transfer to the river steamers and allowed the line to eventually be extended to Tampa without disturbing buildings on the south end of Broadway.
The elegant Kissimmee Hotel/Tropical Hotel was built in the middle of Kissimmee, with easy access from the rail line. Seasonal tourists arrived by train to enjoy hunting, fishing, golf and other activities in our mild winter climate.
With the 1886 arrival of the Hamilton Disston Sugar Plantation and Mill in St. Cloud, a spur line, the Sugar Belt Railway; was added, connecting Kissimmee to St. Cloud. Then on July 19, 1889 the first train arrived in Narcoossee. The narrow gauge had been eliminated and changed to standard (four feet nine inches) gauge.
The route ran from Kissimmee down what became Neptune Road, east to the canal where a spur line branched off at Peghorn Junction, down the canal to the Sugar Plantation, then east through St. Cloud to Ashton and north to Narcoossee. A turntable at Narcoossee allowed the engine to be turned for the return trip to Kissimmee. The Cadman Brothers were able to ship citrus from their grove in Narcoossee by train; the fruit eventually making its way to England.
Following the dismantling of the Disston Sugar Mill in 1901, the equipment was loaded onto between fifty and sixty rail cars and transported to Tampa where it was then shipped by Dutch schooner to Mexico. The former Disston Mill property became the current town of St. Cloud and once again, new residents arrived. In 1909, hundreds of Union Veterans arrived by train from all parts of the country to make St. Cloud their new home.
Built in 1886, the narrow gauge Midland Railroad, was a logging railroad from Longwood to Kissimmee by way of Apopka and Windermere. The line to Kissimmee was completed in 1890 but it too was eventually changed to standard gauge and ran in the vicinity of the current location of the Pioneer Village at Shingle Creek.
With the arrival of Peavy-Wilson Lumber Company in Holopaw and other industries; such as turpentine camps at Illahaw and Nittaw and large citrus groves and cattle ranches in Yeehaw and Kenansville; railroad lines began to crisscross Osceola County and small depots were built to transport goods into and out of the area.
The replica depot was completed in time for our annual Pioneer Day in November 2016. A small section of standard gauge rail was installed next to the depot and is currently on display at the Pioneer Village at Shingle Creek. Special thanks to the generosity of Middlesex/Herzog Joint Venture for the donation of the materials and installation. Middlesex/Herzog current venture is the construction of Sunrail Phase II.
Sources: “Osceola County The First 100 Years” by Aldus M. and Robert S. Cody, 1987
“The River of the Long Water” by Alma Hetherington, 1980
“Lines South”, The St. Cloud & Sugar Belt Railway Company by Robert A. Fisk, 2nd
Photo Courtesy: Florida Memory and Michael Bast Collection