Springfield's 1st Railroad: Life After Camp Cuba Libre

May 5, 2016 5 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Most know it as a wide linear green strip of overgrown vegetation serving as the border between Springfield and the Eastside. 125 years ago, this forgotten path was primed to become a major gateway into Florida's largest city. Today, we take a look at the rise and fall of a former Springfield railroad corridor and the buildings and businesses it once served.

Completed in 1881, the Fernandina and Jacksonville Railroad (F&J) was the first railroad constructed in Springfield. Running 22 miles from Yulee in Nassau County to the St. Johns River near the shipyards, it soon merged with the Florida Transit and Peninsular Railroad, Florida Central and Western Railroad, and Leesburg and Indian River Railroad, instantly becoming a part of the largest railroad system in Florida at the time.

An 1882 railroad map illustrating the F&J line between Jacksonville and Harts Road (Yulee). Courtesy of wikipedia.

In 1886, in order to connect the F&J to the Florida, Atlantic & Gulf Railroad, the Jacksonville Belt Railroad (now known as the S-Line) was constructed between Springfield and the Jacksonville Terminal area in LaVilla. In 1898, a second railroad, running parallel with the F&J line between Springfield and the Eastside was completed. Operated by the Atlantic, Valdosta & Western Railway (AV&W) and promoted as the Jacksonville Short Line, it was considered to be the best built railroad in the state and the first to lay 70-lb. steel rails. Connecting the city with Valdosta, it was the last railroad line built into Jacksonville.

With the F&J and AV&W in place, Springfield immediately began to reap the economic benefits of an improved railroad network and strengthened connectivity with surrounding areas. In May 1898, a military installation known as "Camp Cuba Libre" was established for the deployment of American troops in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. Within a few weeks, trainloads of soldiers were arriving at the Camp Cuba Libre assembly point. Before the end of the war, as many as 30,000 troops came to Camp Cuba Libre, where they were under the command of Major General Fitzhugh Lee, Robert E. Lee's nephew.

General layout of Camp Springfield, Camp Cuba Libre and Camp Wells. Source: Otis Historical Archives Nat'l Museum of Health & Medicine

After the official end of the Spanish-American War in April 1899, Major General Fitzhugh Lee would go on to become the military governor of Havana and Pinar del Rio. The scenery along Springfield's first railroad corridor would change as well. The first major change took place in April 1899 when the Seaboard Air-Line System acquired the Florida Central and Peninsular Railroad (former F&J) for $3.5 million. The second major domino fell when the AV&W was granted the right in 1900 to lay track along the downtown waterfront from Catherine Street westward to Hogan Street for 50 years. Two years later, the AV&W was acquired by the Southern Railway. Southern then transferred the former AV&W track east of Grand Crossing, to the St. Johns River Terminal Company, a holding company established by Southern in 1901 after a dispute with the ACL concerning entry into the Jacksonville Terminal.

With strong ownership in place and both rail lines reaching Jacksonville's waterfront, this corridor was primed to take advantage of Springfield's popularity and growth during the rebuilding of the city after the Great Fire of 1901. While Camp Cuba Libre was no longer needed, by 1913 the logistics provided by Springfield's first railroad corridor had attracted several planing mills producing building materials for a rapidly growing community. By the end of the Florida Land Boom, names associated with this gateway corridor included S.S. Goffin, J.C. Halsema, Frank Pembroke Huckins, Swisher and Coca-Cola. Other well known names served in the downtown area included the Jacksonville Shipyards and Maxwell House Coffee.

The Maiden trip of the Fairform Flyer. The Fairform Flyer was the motorboat of Frank Huckins, who is seated on the right with a pipe in his mouth. Carol Bettes is seated to Frank's right. Katherine Trenholm Hull is seated in the middle and is looking right. The boat is docked at the Ft. George Club. The boat was manufactured in Huckins' Jacksonville yard at 601 East 4th Street. Courtesy of the (State Archives of Florida)

The area of the photo tour's focus is the corridor highlighted in red.

Today, Metro Jacksonville's Ennis Davis provides readers with a brief photo tour of Springfield's forgotten gateway into Jacksonville's urban core.

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