Monday, December 28, 2015

Abandoned Railroad: Fort White

I have had an obsession with abandoned railroads for just about as long as I can remember. You may have noticed that even though this blog is fairly young, I’ve written about railroads a good bit already. As a child growing up in Columbia City, I used to be convinced that I could hear the ghostly echo of the train running between Lake City and Fort White, which used to run through Columbia City – even though those tracks had been pulled up before I was even born.

During Fort White’s boom years in the late 1800s to early 1900s, trains connected Fort White to Lake City and Live Oak to the north and northwest, and to High Springs and Gainesville to the south. During that time, the population of the community swelled to roughly 2000, and was supported by the mining of phosphate, the collection of turpentine, and the growth of cotton and oranges. The trains bustled in and out of town, carting away the goods which funded the community. However, as with many booms, this one went bust. The phosphate mines depleted, extreme freezes killed off the orange orchards, and boll weevils destroyed the cotton. People moved away, the rail lines fell silent, and eventually the rails were removed. Parts of the rail line were converted to a rails-to-trails path, the O’Leno to Ichetucknee trail, although other sections remain overgrown and wild.

The old Fort White train station has an interesting post-rail history. After the railway line became inactive, the physical train station was sold to a farmer in the nearby town of Branford, who moved it to his property and used it as a barn in which to store hay. A picture of the station in its hay-storing capacity can be seen here. Twenty years later, in 2002, the farmer sold it back to the city of Fort White and it was returned to its original location. An image of the station after it had been returned to its original location but before its restoration can be seen here. It has since been refurbished, and is now used by the Fort White Chamber of Commerce. Additionally, a short stretch of track with a caboose (which had resided at the Kindergarten Center in Lake City for many years) have been installed.

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I like to browse real estate listings. Last January, I discovered that roughly two acres of woodland bordering a stretch of the old Fort White to High Springs segment of abandoned railroad were for sale for an absurdly cheap price – slightly more than $3k. The catch? The property was landlocked, AKA inaccessible by car and without a minor bit of on-foot trespassing. Apparently at some point (during the housing boom, no doubt) someone had planned to subdivide the area, and had sold plots to various people, with plans drafted for access roads to reach said plots. But as that boom, too, went bust, the area was never subdivided, and the planned roads to access the various properties were never built. A bit of trespassing would be required any time anyone wished to access this land, which had been foreclosed on and was bank owned.


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The property in question; the diagonal bit of land is the former railroad bed.


I was convinced that if I made an absurdly low offer, the bank would accept. I mean, who else would want to own a piece of inaccessible woodland along an abandoned railroad? I convinced my mother and her boyfriend to accompany me to the property. We had to park at the end of dirt road and walk through some woods of dubious ownership before reaching the abandoned railroad bed. We then had to trudge down the bed for a good ten minutes before we got to the actual lot in question. It was glorious overgrown woodland, and I imagined erecting a faux train station along the old line – and a million other fantastical ideas – before my mom talked me out of it. Alas.

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Don't mind us, we're just looking at real estate.

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At some points the railroad bed was quite overgrown.
(That's my mom, btw.)

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Other parts were much easier to walk.

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Me, at the property in question.

The property is no longer for sale; it was purchased last February by people who, alas, are not me. Perhaps its new owners, too, have bizarre fantasies of ghost trains. 

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