The Rochelle Branch

Rochelle to Palatka, FL

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.

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