Rochelle to Palatka

The Rochelle Branch

(Forwarded from the Gainesville, Ocala & Charlotte Harbor Railroad)

This line began life in 1878 as the narrow-gauge Gainesville, Ocala and Charlotte Harbor, intended to link Gainesville, in Alachua County at the state's center, with Charlotte Harbor on the Gulf Coast. A branch between Rochelle and Palatka was to be built to tap access to the river steamers and ocean going vessels that came up the St. Johns to Palatka. However, it quickly became evident that traffic originating to and from Palatka was greater than that from Gainesville, and the branch soon morphed into the mainline, with a spur line to Gainesville. The line was reorganized as the Florida Southern Railway in 1881. A turf war with Henry B. Plant's standard gauge Jacksonville, Tampa & Key West ended any hope of northward extension from Gainesville. Eventually the FS amounted to 310 route miles plus additional service through affiliated narrow-gauge lines such as the South Florida RR and the Jupiter & Lake Worth Ry. In 1889 the line was temporarily leased to the J.T. & K.W., but returned to independent operation in 1890. However, in 1895 it was acquired by Mr. Plant and absorbed, along with the J.T. & K.W. into the Plant System of lines. It was standard gauged in 1896 and merged into the ACL in 1903.

The ACL operated two mainlines in the state, the East Coast Line, which ran from Jacksonville, through Palatka to Orlando, then south to Miami, and the West Coast Line that ran down the center of the state from Jacksonville to Alachua (Gainesville), through Ocala to Tampa. With an extension between Rochelle and Alachua, the former FS mainline between Rochelle and Palatka bridged the two mainlines after 1903, and served various agricultural and mining concerns at Hawthorne, Keuka and Interlachen. By the 1970s the bridge function had waned, leaving only the online revenue sources to support the line. In the late 1970s the rails between Francis (about five miles west of Palatka) and Interlachen were pulled up. The Kaolin mines at Interlachen and Keuka are now served by the branch from the former Seaboard Airline Railway mainline at Hawthorne. A stub spur serves several customers west of Palatka, and the ROW between Francis and Interlachen down through Nine-Mile Swamp is still evident. A very classic small town station did exist in Interlachen across the street from Brush's General Store, which was founded in 1852 and was at one time the oldest continually operating GS in the state of Florida. However, the last Brush decendent died in the early 1970s and operation of the store succumbed to modern competition. Sadly, both of the structures are now gone.

The status of the line west of Hawthorne is not known. Since the CSX merger the line between Rochelle and Alachua may have become redundant.

Thanks to Ken Willis for contributing information about this route.

The Atlantic Coast Line didn't go to Miami. The Seaboard Air Line did when it built an extension in the 1920s. God bless.

Chris
Cleveland, MS
7/23/2009

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In Palatka, the SCL joined the FEC at Union Station where it entered an 8-track yard, then went on to Rochelle where it joined a line that went from Leesburg to Lake City. The ROW is somewhat ease to make out in places.

1. Between Palatka & Francis the old ROW is now part of St. John's Ave. which is on the building block to be extended to SR. 20

2. Between Hollister & Interlachen the ROW is now the east bound lane of SR. 20

3. In Interlachen the ROW is a park with an SCL caboose

4. From Keuka to Hawthorne the ROW is still used today by CSX as the Edger Branch

5. From Just west of Hawthorne the ROW is a paved rail trail know as the Gainesville Howthorne Trail.

6. The ROW goes beside old Gainesville Hwy. which is a dirt road & SR. 20

Jonathan W. Filion
Palatka, FL
9/15/2009

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The ROW started at the foot of The St. John's River and the FEC at the 1st Street station, then continued west where it did a mile of street running on Main Street, passed the Palatka Union Station, crossed over the ACL's A-Line, entered an 8-track yard, then continued on to Rochelle were it joined a line that went from Leesburg to Lake City.

Jonathan W. Filion
Palatka, FL
9/18/2009

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An interesting event happened on this branch on the night of May 2, 1965. Train 38 a regular passenger train was annulled Rochelle to Jacksonville (Via Gainesville And Burnett's Lake). Train order authority was given to #38's train to run Rochelle to Palatka as Extra 532 North. Don't know the circumstances for the reroute but have ACL Ocala Division Train Oders No 3 and 4 of May 3, 1965 covering this operation. Orders were given to #38 at McIntosh. Probably the last passenger operation over the branch.

M R Johnson
High Springs, FL
2/14/2011

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The above post should read "May 2, 1964" not 1965. Sorry for the error.

M R Johnson
High Springs, FL
2/15/2011

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I worked in Palatka from 1978 - 1998. Ken, if your mother is Miss Betty, I was her next door neighbor, the cop. I recall the local SCL RR crews in and around Palatka referring to the eastern end of the Rochelle Branch as the "Pea-Vine". I grew fond of that line and regularly visited it from Palatka Yard (now gone) on out to the SR 20 overpass(also gone)in "Francis". I have some photos of traffic on this line, and still recall scores and scores of empty Piggy-Back flat cars stretched out and stored on that line from west of SR 19 near the St. Johns River College all the way back out to the overpass and further west. Those cars remained there for many months during a time when shipping by rail had all but dried up. I think someone said the cars were actually being stored for the FEC? during a particularly bad time or season in those days. This was after through service between Interlachen and Palatka had ceased so it became a storage track. If memory serves, the last customer on that section of the line was a lumber yard or feed store somewhere near Hollister and east of Interlachen. They would get an occasional car load of bricks. This was during the early 80's; in fact, the tracks were not removed until the mid 80's. When they stored all of those flats there had been no rail traffic on that line for a long time. I can still remember how the "Pea-Vine" track snaked through the woods and back yards as it crossed over Palm Avenue in Palatka and how many of the residents gathered to see what all the commotion was about. I've got some photos of that as well and I want to say it was 1982 or 1983 at that time. Great memories. Sadly, it's all been removed but I'm glad I had the notion to get it on film.

Miller Norton
Palatka / Neptune Beach, FL
8/11/2011

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West from Hawthorne this branch ran across the NE corner of Paynes Praire, thru SE Gainesville, up thru the center of Gainesville and then parallel to US441 to Alachua. From the center of Gainesville east was torn up in 80's, it is now a trail. From Gainesville north to Hague was torn up in the late 90's. From Hague to Alachua is still in service with CSX to serve the power plant at Hague.

John
Ft Lauderdale, FL
2/17/2012

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The line still exists south of Hague, down to 23rd st in Gainesville. I was there last year and there were a couple of box cars on what I had always thought was an abandoned branch into a small industrial park at 23rd St and Main.

Ryan
Jacksonville, FL
10/25/2013

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