Callahan Train Depot
Jacksonville is one of the major hubs in modern-day Florida along with other big cities like Orlando and Miami. However, this wasn’t always the case. Located just thirty minutes north of Jacksonville is the sleepy little town of Callahan. The town center is only two miles long and with a population just under 2,000, there are more cows than people. Callahan is known for a few things like the Battle of Alligator bridge that took place during the revolutionary war and the town’s rich history in the train industry. (Town of Callahan) When you first arrive at the historic train depot, don’t worry. You’re in the right place. The original train depot was destroyed in a fire sometime after 1911 and was rebuilt (Town of Callahan). On the outside of the historic train depot is a bright red train car, the biggest indicator that you’ve arrived. Inside the train depot is a history of Callahan and the train industry. Every year the West Nassau Historical Society hosts a Railroad Day Festival and car show. At this event the whole town gathers to celebrate the history of Callahan and the trains (West Nassau Museum of History).
Backstory and Context
A construction foreman by the name of David Callahan decided to build a railroad supply camp which lead to the birth of a small transportation junction (West Nassau Historical Society). The Callahan Train Depot that we have today sits on the original Florida Railway but is a 100 yards northwest of the original train depot. The building was moved after the fire of 1911 but there’s no paperwork stating why. The Florida Railroad began construction in Fernandina, just 30 miles away. The tracks ran all the way down to Cedar Key and were mainly used as freight lines. However, real development of the railroads did not start until after the Civil War ended with the lines eventually becoming a part of Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railroad system. (Town of Callahan)
Shortly after the first stages of the railroad industry the Civil War broke out in Charleston Harbor in 1861, bringing a Union invasion to Amelia Island the following year. Most of the townsfolk took the last trains out to Florida’s interior and with the wealthy plantation owners gone the slaves fled to make their own settlements. The Union troops pushed onwards and destroyed the railhead, offices, rolling stock and even removed tracks that led to the mainland. After the war the railroads were reconstructed, small towns began to grow again, and goods were being exported. The largest export out of Nassau County to this day is lumber. (West Nassau County Historical Society).
The train industry is significant because before this the government was having a hard time convincing people to move to Florida. The land earned a bad reputation from early colonization attempts the Seminole Wars. When the system was built the railroad, companies sold the land on either side of the tracks to people to build on. This is how the townships formed because now instead of farmers having to haul their oranges for a day to the station they could plant right along the tracks. Cattle ranchers could now herd cows straight from the land and onto the trains. Boom towns were now starting to pop-up all over Florida because of the railroad industry
American Rails. “Florida Railroads.” Florida Railroads And Railfanning In "The Sunshine State", Amnerican Rails, www.american-rails.com/fl.html.
Florida Rail Road Museum. History of the Florida Rail Road Museum, www.frrm.org/history.html.
Pettengill, George Warren. The Story of the Florida Railroads, 1834-1903. Southeast Chpt. of Railway & Locomotive Historical Society, 1998.
Town of Callahan. “Our History.” Town of Callahan, www.townofcallahan-fl.gov/our-history/.
“West Nassau Museum of History.” West Nassau Historical Society, www.wnhsfl.org/.