Sunday, November 29, 2015

Abandoned Railroad: High Springs (part 2)

Before you read this post, you should definitely be sure you've read Part 1, as it covers some the history of the railroad in High Springs, including the layout of the remaining railroad beds and the recent removal of the tracks. To be honest, it's also a bit more interesting of a post, as the second leg of the abandoned railroad that we traversed was not anywhere near as interesting. So seriously, if you haven't read it yet, go check it out before scrolling any further down this post.

Today - again accompanied by JOM of Gravel Cyclist - I decided to check out the line going south through downtown and southeast towards the town of Alachua. As mentioned in my previous post on this bit of rail, the tracks were pulled up at the end of February 2015. Not much evidence that High Springs was once a bustling railroad town remains. There's a welcome station / public restroom located in a faux train station located along the former rail line, just south of Main Street; most people assume it was actually the original train station. Hell, I had assumed it was the original train station. It's not. I've been told (by the folks at the High Springs Historical Museum) that it was built in the 1980s. However, just north of Main Street along NE Railroad Ave sits the original passenger depot. That's not it's original location; it used to be located several blocks north of its current location. It was moved to its current location and restored in 1994.

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Here's the faux train station, located along the empty railroad bed.

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This is the original passenger station. The historical marker in front reads:

"This old passenger depot, built c. 1910, is all that remains of the vast railroad complex located southwest of downtown that made High Springs a bustling railroad center for nearly 50 years. In 1895, the Plant Railroad System chose the town as the site of its divisional headquarters. Rail yards, workshops, and a roundhouse serviced hundreds of steam engines and cars sent to High Springs to be cleaned and repaired. The importance of High Springs as a rail center declined as diesel engines replaced the old steam locomotives after World War II. Gradually all of the railroad buildings disappeared except the depot which was moved to this site and renovated as a railroad museum in 1994." (I don't know anything about this alleged museum, but the building sold recently, and is not currently open to the public.)

While the walk along the former rail line northward to the Santa Fe was an easy walk - with most of the former railroad bed easily trod - today's walk was not as accessible. Immediately south of town (not far past the faux-station), the rail bed becomes quite overgrown. We ended up covered in hitchhiker weeds, and soon moved to SE Railroad Ave, which parallels the old track. We didn't go too far, just about half a mile or so southeast of town to just past Prime Conduit (the factory which was the reason that leg of track had remained open until recently), but even the siding serving the factory has been removed and the area is already completely overgrown. Nonetheless, I of course took photos along our walk:

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We found the tumbledown remains of an old house.

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Sign at the Prime Conduit back gate, where the old siding would have been.

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Some of the railroad crossing signs on the asphalt can still be seen

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This sign, posted in 1987 according to the date on the back, still remains to warn drivers along SE 17th St that they're approaching the track, although no rails remain.

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I took this picture back in February 2015 right after the rails had been removed; the railroad bed was still easily passable, and several of the crossing signs were still posted.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Old Bellamy Road, Part 1: Alachua County

Rivers are great and all for boating, swimming, and fishing; however, they pose an obstacle for anyone lacking either wings or a bridge. Long before European settlers came to the ‘new world,’ the native peoples of what is now Florida had to find ways to traverse the state’s many rivers. One river, however, provided an easy path. The Santa Fe River, which runs for approximately 75 miles across north Florida before merging with the larger Suwannee River, goes completely underground only to emerge from the earth three miles to the south. This, in effect, provided the native peoples of the state a natural bridge across an otherwise difficult to traverse waterway, and the route connecting what is now Alachua and Columbia counties became a well-trod track. After the Spanish settled the territory, they too took advantage of this natural bridge, creating a roadway of sorts linking the Spanish city of St. Augustine to what is now Pensacola. This ‘road’ crossed the natural bridge over the Santa Fe, and for a time a Spanish mission, Santa Fé de Toloca, was located there (and from whence the river received its modern name).

In the 1820s, Florida became a US territory, and the new American leadership began focusing on development of the Floridian economy and infrastructure. In 1824, Congress approved funding for the first federal highway in Florida: a road to be built from St. Augustine to Pensacola, following the route of the old Spanish road. A plantation owner named John Bellamy was contracted to build the St. Augustine to Tallahassee portion, and from him that portion of the road received its name: Bellamy Road. Like its predecessor, the Bellamy Road crossed the natural bridge over the Santa Fe River. You can read a really interesting article about the construction of the road here.

As time passed, other routes across north Florida became more popular and the Bellamy Road fell into disuse; however, stretches of the road – some paved, some dirt – still remain, scattered throughout the northeastern part of the state. Below are some images from the sections of the road in Alachua County. 

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The sign reads as follows:
1824 - The Bellamy Road - 1952
The construction of this road was authorized by the 18th Congress and approved February 28, 1824. The section from Tallahassee to St. Augustine was built by John Bellamy and followed the old Spanish road. Gainesville Chapter, Daughters of American Revolution

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All that remains of the St. Mary's Church, an African-American church once located at the intersections of Old Providence Road and Old Bellamy Road.

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A note of caution for those interested in checking out the Old Bellamy Road, whether in Alachua or other counties: There were once numerous old structures along the roadway; however, both time and trespassers have taken their toll. The St. Mary's Church (fourth picture from the top) was one such example. I stopped to photograph what was left of it (from the road), and the property owner was there in less than a minute. He was a very nice man, and we had a lovely chat. He told me that when he bought the property, the church was standing, but that over the years he caught numerous people trespassing, many of whom were taking souvenirs. He blamed such souvenir-taking on the building's eventual collapse. I photographed the final two buildings above from the roadway as well, as the properties are clearly marked as private, no trespassing. Despite not leaving the road, their owner was out to see what I was up to quite quickly as well, and seemed to be dealing with the same problem. As corny as it sounds, the quote which I've seen at numerous state and national parks, 'take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints' seems achingly appropriate here. Enjoy looking at these structures, whether here online or in real life, but be respectful of the properties and their owners.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Abandoned Railroad: High Springs (part 1)

I live in High Springs, FL. It’s a small town with a population of just over 5000. Even though it’s a pretty small place, it’s a fairly active small town with popular restaurants, a local theater, an operational restored historical movie theater, antique stores, bakeries, and tons of outdoor activities revolving around the local rivers and springs. While many other small, north Florida towns of comparable size are indeed desolate, High Springs, in general, is not. However, the one bit of desolation which High Springs does indeed have is its abandoned railroads.

High Springs was once a fairly active railroad destination, with both a passenger and a freight railway station and a roundhouse, serving lines that ran north to south from Dupont, GA to Alachua, FL and east to west connecting High Springs to Newberry, FL and beyond. The line from Dupont to Alachua has been abandoned for many years, with the exception of a little strip here in High Springs which connected the Lamson and Sessions Prime Conduit plant just south of town along the north-south line to the connection just north of town with the east-west train line. As of 2010, the line was still active, but in desperate need of repair. A cost/benefit analysis was conducted to determine whether the line should be repaired or abandoned, and by the following year the decision to abandon had been made.

When I moved to High Springs in July 2014, the tracks were still present for the Prime Conduit to Newberry stretch of the lines, even though the rail crossings in downtown High Springs had recently been removed and the rails north of the switch had been gone for many years. In January 2015, the process of removing the rails entirely began. As of today, very little of the railroad remains in High Springs, aside from the train station buildings and the now empty railroad beds.

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I took this photo in October 2014. You can still see the tracks running past the High Springs Welcome Center located in a faux-trainstation building just south of downtown.

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I took this on February 1, 2015, when the rails and ties had been pulled up, but hadn't yet been removed.

As I have a bit of an obsession with desolation in general and abandoned railroads in particular, I decided to explore as many of the abandoned railway lines in the area as possible. It’s a little ridiculous that two such lines exist within a few minutes’ walk of my house and yet I only just started exploring them last weekend… but what can I say? I’m a busy woman. Last weekend JOM of Gravel Cyclist and I scouted the east-west line from Poe Springs Road to the switch at the connection with the north-south line, and then followed the north-south line north of town to the Santa Fe River:

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The east-west line, midway between Poe Springs Rd and the switch

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The east-west line begins curving to meet the switch with the north-south line

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This is where the two lines once met.

The following two shots of the switch were taken at the same location in 2008 by flickr user badge1955:
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Just north of the switch, we spotted a tower.

Here's badge155's comparable shot from 2008:
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As we approached the tower, we noticed a small building in the weeds and decided to check it out.

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It had been a dispatch radio signal station.

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Now it's just an empty building.

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Just north of the switch and the remains of the dispatch signal station, one reaches the area where the tracks have been gone for far longer. This stretch of former rail bed has been a "road" of sorts for some time, paralleling Hwy 27 north of High Springs. It's named NW 270th Ter, and it's not exactly a highly traveled stretch of roadway. It made for a great walk on a lovely Sunday afternoon though :-)

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As we neared the northern end of NW 270th Ter, we did discover this little gem off to the side. From a distance I thought it looked like an outhouse. Up close... well, as far as we could tell, it had indeed been an outhouse. While there were no fixtures remaining, there were definitely pipes in the proper places for a sink and a toilet. There were no signs of who this outhouse might have served, however, as there were no houses or remains thereof anywhere close. A pitstop for train engineers perhaps?

NW 270th Ter dead-ends at the Santa Fe River.  Not much remains of the old railroad bridge, other than a few large pilings:
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Once you cross the Santa Fe River into Columbia county, the railroad bed becomes wild and impassable.
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I still plan to explore the north-south line south of town, as well as the east-west line west of Poe Springs Rd, so please check back! Meanwhile, if you're into train imagery, I recommend checking out the flickr page of badge1955, where there are a ton of excellent train photos from all over.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Southern Columbia County

I grew up in southern Columbia County, in the area known as Columbia City (although the term ‘city’ is clearly a misnomer). I lived on five acres at the very end of a dirt road. The nearest kid my age was a mile away, and if we needed groceries it was a 30 minute drive. As a teenager, I wanted nothing more than to get the hell out of rural, desolate, backwoods north Florida. If you’d told teenage me that adult me would willingly move back to north Florida and be enjoying blogging about rural, desolate, backwoods north Florida, teenage me would have laughed in your face. However, as adult me has lived in such non-desolate locations as St. Petersburg, Russia (pop. 5 million), San Diego, CA (pop. 1.4 million), Daegu, South Korea (pop. 2.5 million), Seoul, South Korea (pop. 10 million), and Orlando, FL (pop. 2 million), living in rural north Florida in a small town with a population of 5,500 is a welcome relief. I have once again been living in north Florida for the past year and a half, and I love it. I’ve taken several drives through Columbia County to look at my old haunts and (of course) take some photos. Given my close proximity to Columbia County (I can make it there in about five minutes or so by car), I expect to share quite a few images from that county with you. Here are some of the more recent ones I’ve taken of the area around various spots in southern Columbia County, including in Columbia "city."

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Along Hwy 47 between Fort White and Columbia City

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The Tube Tree at Lowe's Tubeland
In the spring and summer when the weather is hot, this is far from a desolate location, as hundreds of people come every day to tube down the
Ichetucknee River from Ichetucknee Springs.
In the off season, however, it is quite desolate.

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The dirt road that I grew up at the end of is now paved. This one, leading into Columbia City, remains a beautiful tree-lined dirt road.

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Want to buy your own piece of Floridian desolation? At the end of the above dirt road, right as it rolls into Columbia City, sits this house (which is for sale!)

I grew up not all that far from this house, although as its yard used to be completely wooded, and I never realized there was a house in there. Since it wasn't on "my" side of Hwy 47, this wasn't part of the woodlands that I spent my childhood romping through. I posted this picture of it on facebook, and my mom commented to say "Wasn't that the Darrell Davis house, where the guy got killed?" to which my response was along the lines of HOW WAS THERE A MURDER IN COLUMBIA CITY AND I DIDN'T KNOW ABOUT IT? I mean, kids are morbid and I would have been totally obsessed, had I known. As it turned out that it happened in 1982 when I was all of three and a half years old, it makes sense that I didn't know about it (and I doubt it would have been the sort of thing my parents would talk about in front of me). The murder occurred in the family home located behind the S&S convenience store in Columbia City, although apparently this is not the Darrell Davis house. People in the know (AKA denizens of a Lake City/Columbia County facebook group, You know you're from Lake City when...) have told me that the Davis house was a block or brick masonry house located just to the north of this one. (If you want to read more about the murder and subsequent appeal, click here.)

If you take highway 240 east from Columbia City, you will eventually come to the intersection with 441, at another booming metropolis known as Watermelon Park. There's not much there, desolate or not... other than Nettles Sausage and a boarded up old building that was apparently once a church. It's been boarded up like that as long as I can remember. I don't know what kind of church it was or when it shut down, although other Columbia County folk (again from the local facebook group) have confirmed that it was indeed once a church. Several of them mentioned that it was actually moved to its present location, although I don't have any details on when that happened or where it was located originally.

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To the southeast of Watermelon Park, there are a large number of roads named after various members of the Feagle family, an old Columbia County family. At the end of one dirt road sits the remains of the old Feagle homestead. There's not much left of it.

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The sign in front of what's left of the homestead reads:
Home Place of David & Cora Feagle, Edith Feagle Witt, Phillip Smith Feagle, Maxie Eldred Feagle, Marion Cline Feagle

If you head further south, heading back towards Alachua county, there's another gem located at the end of another dirt road. It sits empty on a property, the owners of which appear to live in a much newer home on the same plat. I would love to have this house. As my mom had an old house moved onto her property and restored, I can totally see myself doing that one day. I'd love to move this house to my property.... if only it were available. And if only I had property, haha.

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Wednesday, November 4, 2015

An Abandoned Animal Sanctuary

I am drawn to desolation because I find beauty in the desolate and the decaying, but I am also drawn to the mysteries surrounding things which have been abandoned. Something inside me wants not only to explore and to photograph, but to find out what various abandoned places once were and how they arrived at their current state. Often, despite the numerous sources that are available, one can only find out so much, and the remaining mystery continues to tantalize and draw one in. My previous post about Asberry Cemetery was one such tantalizing mystery. This post is another.

I spent the other day exploring various dirt roads of north Florida, which is one of my favorite hobbies. I drove far down a narrow dirt road in an incredibly rural county, and had actually worried that the road might be blocked by a gate at some point. While I had been hoping to find something to photograph, I had expected something along the lines of an old farmhouse, however what I found was quite different. I was driving along, enjoying the view of woodland on my right and vast fields dotted with hay bales on my left, when out of the corner of my eye I thought I spotted something. I hit the brakes and threw my car into reverse, and there it was. It was an overgrown road or driveway leading into the woods, and there were faded signs – including a large, faded billboard. This had clearly once been something.

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We parked the car and got out. The faded billboard read All Creatures Wildlife Sanctuary. Another, even more faded and barely readable sign read No Hunting! No Entry! We didn’t wish to trespass, but as it was clear that as neither the signs nor the facility itself had had any recent use, we ventured a short way down the overgrown drive.

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There wasn’t much to see, really, and it wasn’t exactly what you’d call picturesque. It was, however, both desolate and sad. All that remained of the All Creatures Animal Rescue, aside from the faded and broken signage, were some bent and mangled remains of fences, and the collapsed and stripped remains of a building of some kind.

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As an animal lover, and as someone who has done a lot of animal rescue work in her life (albeit with domestic animals, not wildlife), this place really got to me. If it had indeed been a fully functioning wildlife sanctuary, providing homes to ‘all creatures’ as it were, the fact that it was now little more than a few broken signs and a collapsing pile of rubble was incredibly depressing. What had happened here? Had it really been a wildlife sanctuary? Why had it closed? Where had all the animals gone?

I thought for sure that the internet would have all the answers to my questions; however, as with Asberry Cemetery, there was only so much that I could discover.

All Creatures Wildlife Sanctuary was active as a registered non-profit from 1987 to 2004. This was the most comprehensive article I was able to on the facility. According to the article, the facility was home to a wide variety of wild animals, including wolves, cougars, bobcats, owls, hawks, deer, tortoises, and more. They were federally licensed to take care for wild animals: those that had been injured and needed rehabilitation (see the article on the rescued bald eagle below), those with permanent injuries or disabilities which would have prevented them from surviving on their own in the wild, and those confiscated from unlicensed owners which had become too 'domesticated' to be released into the wild. Wild animals with shrinking populations were bred at the facility, and zoos from across the country liaised with All Creatures Wildlife Sanctuary to arrange breeding of rare animals. The facility itself ran on volunteer labor and donations. Tours of the facility were by appointment only, and cost $5 per person. Additionally, people seeking to earn their license to work with exotic wildlife, could put in their required 1000 hours of training at the facility.
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See full sized image HERE
From: Gainesville Sun, January 5, 1991

However, life at the All Creatures Wildlife Sanctuary was not smooth sailing. According to this article from 1989 (which cites another that I could not locate), the sanctuary was in desperate need of donations:
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See full-sized image HERE
From: Gainesville Sun, August 20, 1989 

According to these articles, the sanctuary lent its male bobcat (which they used for breeding purposes) to Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park in 1990. The Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park then had him neutered, in what seems to have been some sort of misunderstanding about whether the bobcat was a loan or a gift, which you can read about HERE.

However, what I am assuming (and this is just an assumption) was the death knell for the organization occurred in March 1998. A volunteer brought her children with her when she came to the facility. She left her children unsupervised, and one of them - a three year old boy - stuck his arm into a cage with a wolf, which then proceeded to maul the boy's arm. This incident led to fines levied against the facility for negligence, a federal investigation into safety at the facility, and threats of a lawsuit by the boy's family.
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See full-sized image HERE
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See full-sized image HERE
From: Gainesville Sun, October 12, 1998

And that's it. That's where the story runs cold, at least so far as I could find. The last recorded date of activity at least in the organization's name was 2004. The property itself was sold in 2005 and again in 2006, and it has sat vacant ever since. What happened to force the sanctuary to close? Where did the animals go? I still do not know.