Conceived and financed by cotton planters who needed a way to get their crop to textile mills in northern states, in 1834 the Tallahassee Rail Road was organized in the Territory of Florida. Being one of the first operational railroads in the United States, construction for its route began in the same year, and it opened for service two years later.
Its initial route was quite short by today’s standards. It ran a mere 22 miles from Port Leon on the east bank of the St. Marks River, northward to Tallahassee. During its brief existence, Port Leon was one of the largest cotton ports along the Gulf Coast, and possessed a vast array of warehouses for storing cotton crop while it awaited to be loaded on ships.
In the railroad’s beginning, steam-powered locomotives weren’t used. Instead, mules were used for motive power, and the system’s tracks were made of wooden rails and stringers, rather than iron or steel.
In 1837 locomotives were put into service on the line. However, as was the case with other southern railroads, the system’s tracks weren’t sufficiently built or maintained, and the company was forced to abandon their use, and regress back to using mule power.
In addition to freight, the system also provided primitive passenger service. Riders could disembark from either terminus, cross the St. Marks River via trestle, and travel the 22 mile journey in relative comfort.
On September 13, 1843 a massive hurricane struck Florida’s gulf coast. In its wake, the town of Port Leon was obliterated. The railroad’s tracks and trestle bridge were destroyed. Scarcely much was left of the town, including the warehouses that were full of cotton. Rather than rebuild, the entire port and railroad infrastructure were abandoned.
In response to the devastation, the railroad relocated its southernmost terminus northward, at the juncture of the St. Marks and Wakulla Rivers. A new railroad facility was constructed, just north of where the trestle bridge once stood. A new port was established, and the new terminus became known as St. Marks.
Overnight, St. Marks transformed into a bustling and thriving port. The railroad fastly became a profitable enterprise, despite shippers being charged a mere 75-cents for each bale of cotton transported.
In 1855 the Pensacola & Georgia Railroad acquired the Tallahassee Rail Road. Immediately its new owners began moderning and standardizing its infrastructure. Workers widened the railroad’s gauge to the broadly used 5-foot gauge, and replaced the track with 56lb iron T-rail. In addition to the railroad’s improvements, management operated the system independently from the Pensacola & Georgia Rail Road.
In 1869 the Pensacola & Georgia Railroad entered receivership. Never profitable, the parent company, and its profitable Tallahassee subsidiary were sold-off and consolidated under the new Jacksonville, Pensacola & Mobile Rail Road.
Over the course of the next 144 years, despite multiple iterations of railroad consolidations and buyouts, the remnants of the line still exist under the possession and ownership of CSX Transportation. Below is a table which outlines the lifespan of the railroad.
Below please find a two-dollar Tallahassee Rail Road obsolete note. Cataloged as a Bernice-111 / Freeman-78, the specimen is About Uncirculated in grade, and is a green and black remainder that was printed by the American Bank Note Company. These notes were issued much like private bank notes of the era, and could be used as instruments for payment, much like today’s Federal Reserve Notes are used.
Issued circa 1866 and 1867, these notes were produced and issued when the company was a subsidiary of the Pensacola & Georgia Railroad. Sometime in this specimen’s past, it was mounted in an album, as evidenced by the two squares atop the back..
Notes and Sources
State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory
Seaboard Air Line Railway, Richard E. Prince, Wheelwright Lithographing Co, ©1966
Library of Congress Digital Archives