Sarasota to Venice

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Plaque at depot explaining the founding of Venice, FL as a retirement community for the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers. Photo by Neil Stutzman, April 2007.

Originally part of the Sarasota Subdivision, this line was operated by the Seaboard Air Line before it came under ownership of CSX. The southern abandoned portions of the right-of-way between Sarasota and Venice were purchased by local governments from CSX in 2004 for a county-wide trail system, The Legacy Trail. The remainder of the right-of-way on the northern end, towards Oneco, was purchased by the Seminole Gulf Railway in 1987; the SGLR still serves some customers there, and has an interchange with CSX in Oneco.

Thanks to Neil Stutzman for contributing information about this route.

I passed these bridges almost daily in 2008. I should add pictures and information on the Boca Grande Route as well.

David Colgan
Englewood, FL
8/30/2009

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The East & West Coast Railway began construction of a route from Bradenton east to Arcadia in July of 1913. The nearly 50 mile long line was completed and opened for operation on May 3, 1915.

Pine Level was located on this line, 41 miles from it starting point in Bradenton. Pine Level had a depot, a 1,348' railroad siding and a 524' spur track. The railroad served a large saw mill at Pine Level. In July of 1933, the Interstate Commerce Commission authorized the East & West Coast Railway to abandon the tracks from Bradenton to Arcadia. Most of the abandonment actually then took place in September of 1934.

Today, all that remains of Pine Level is the Pine Level Methodist Church, the Indian Mound Cemetery, and the Pine Level Campground Cemetery. The site is marked by a State of Florida bronze marker.

Dennis James Gergel Jr.
Bradenton, FL
3/10/2015

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"The Wisconsin" John Ringling's first private railroad passenger car is restored and located today on display at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Florida.

John Ringling owned a private railroad observation passenger car and used it from 1905 until 1917 to travel with his circus, conduct business trips in and to take vacations with. It was built by the George Mortimer Pullman Company in Pullman, Illinois. It was made of wood. It weighed 65 tons, was 79 feet long, 14 feet tall and 10 feet wide. It cost $11,325.23, this was only about half the price of a comparable Pullman car of the time, because it was outfitted with walls taken from other railroad cars. John Ringling was the youngest person in the country to own his own private rail car. He named it for his home state of Wisconsin, and because that is where his circus was quartered. John and his wife, Mable, traveled in the car on their honeymoon. When the Wisconsin traveled with the circus train, it was usually placed in the middle of the consist. The car was divided into an observation room, three staterooms, dining room, kitchen, bathroom and servants' quarters. It was richly furnished and boasted an interior of mahogany and other woods, intricate moldings, gold-leaf stencils and stained glass throughout. The 10-foot high ceilings were painted Viva Gold, Baize Green and Fiery Brown. There were toilets in each compartment. John and Mable Ringling had a private bathroom, including a tub. The rear compartment of car was the observation room, which could be used as a lounge or as an office. At this rear end of the car was an observation platform. All the rooms got extra daylight from a clerestory of opalescent glass. When New York City, where the Ringling Circus opened its season each year, banned wooden cars from the city's tunnels, John Ringling decided to sell the Wisconsin. Later, the car was purchased by the Norfolk Southern Railroad, which renamed it the Virginia, it used it as a business car for its railroad officials. Then it was sold to the Atlantic & East Carolina Railway, which adapted it into a fishing lodge, renamed it the Carolina and placed it in Morehead City, North Carolina. Tracked down by circus enthusiast Howard Tibbals in 1985, it was acquired by the North Carolina Transportation Museum which kept it in covered storage on its grounds in Spencer. A $417,240 federal grant awarded to the Florida Department of Transportation helped pay for restoration of the Wisconsin's exterior, carried out by the Edwards Rail Car Co. in Montgomery, Ala. The next stop for the railcar was The John and Mable Ringling Museum in Sarasota Florida. An anonymous donation of $100,000 then brought the Wisconsin's interiors back to their Gilded Age sheen, work which was done right at the Ringling Museum. The Sarasota County Parks and Recreation Department donated railroad tracks for the train car to rest on. The tracks became available as part of the Rails to Trails project. The rails were laid by volunteers from the Florida Railroad Museum located in Parrish, Florida. Instead of actually entering the car, visitors to the display at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art now walk along a raised handicap accessible platform and view into the Wisconsin's windows to admire the restored elegance of yesterday brought back to life so vividly.

Dennis James Gergel Jr.
Bradenton, FL
3/10/2015

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