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Thomas Tart: Florida’s First Transportation System

Thomas Tart, a fifth generation Floridian, has been selected to receive the University of Florida’s Lifetime Achievement Award. He is a Civil War expert, works diligently to get WWII historic markers placed in our state, and has a legacy of service in Central Florida as vice president and general counsel for Orlando Utilities Commission.

We invite you to listen as Thomas Tart tells the history of Florida’s first transportation system.

LISTEN Part I (16:24)


(text highlights are excerpts from recording)

…I grew up in Jacksonville and my Grandfather Tart was in Pensacola. So every summer my father and mother would ship me on the train. There was a day train that made every stop… I knew every stop because I couldn’t wait to see my grandfather in Pensacola on the New Orleans train. If I’d been a good boy my dad would put me on the express train called the Gulf Wind….

So today we’re going to cover from the beginning of transportation with the Indian canoes and then we’re going to go to Aaron Jernigan and to the people that settled this community. Jacob Summerlin who came here with ox carts and mule teams. And then we’re going to go to the first two roads in Florida and stage coaches which you’ll be surprised about. Because one of the roads built by the British had to meet the ability to carry four horses and a stage coach. And then, last, but not least we’re going to go to the steamboats..

Painting by Wayne Hovis

My story starts here at the Windover Dig. Orlando Utilities owns the Titusville Power Plant on US I built in 1952. We still operate two gas turbines over there. I got to meet one of our managers and I asked him about historic sights. And he says, “You’re not going to believe this. Jack Eckert was building a subdivision between St. Johns River, Interstate 95, and on one of his lots Mr. Eckert found an Indian burial ground in the Windover subdivision.” My friend took me there and lo and behold they discovered in this muck, in this tremendous oxygen barrier they discovered 96 Indians who were buried. The remarkable thing was because of that muck their bodies were perfectly preserved, brain in tact. They sent a lot of the cadavers to Florida State’s Department of Anthropology and there they were able to carbon date this to 5,000 years before Christ….

The amazing story here is that these Indians for thousands of years traveled the Florida waters using canoes…

When the French came to St. Johns Bluff, where I grew up in Jacksonville, they brought wine and French cooking. The Indians helped them cook beer, turkey, and catch millet and they cooked it and had a celebration. The first Thanksgiving in the New World wasn’t in Jamestown. It wasn’t in Los Holland, NC. It was right on the banks of St. Johns River at St. Johns Bluff, 1565.

LISTEN Part II (17:43)


Moving ahead there were two roads that were built when the British took over. They were growing indigo there at Ormond Beach. Over at Cape Canaveral on the Kennedy Space Center property they were growing sugarcane, big, big acreage of sugarcane. They would boil the sugarcane and make syrup. Then they made brown sugar. The owners back in England weren’t happy with the British colony and they said okay you guys at Canaveral got to do a better job. Let’s take the byproduct of sugarcane and make rum. So they had sugar, brown sugar and rum. They had to build a road from North Canaveral through New Symrna area through the Daytona area past Jacksonville to haul by wagon the sugar, brown sugar and the rum. Maybe a little indigo, too….

Well, guess what, the king says, “I want the road built so good across those subways you can use it twelve months out of the year and I want to be able to take four horses and a carriage on it. I don’t want a pony trail or a mule trail…”

So the first two roads in all of Central Florida, the road from King’s Highway, not the Spanish king as I thought in Jacksonville, but from north Canaveral picking up indigo in the New Symrna area there by the Moroccan settlement there through St. Augustine connecting to the roads all the way to Savannah, Georgia…

Now when the early people came here, Mike Jernigan, and so forth, they didn’t come with mules because the mules couldn’t handle this rough Florida land. I’m talking about the creeks and the marshes. So by day oxen would plow the fields. But moving here they brought their oxen and their family…

You couldn’t come to Orlando by steamship. You couldn’t come to Sanford by steamship. You couldn’t come to Pine Castle by railroad. You could only come by oxcart and wagon…

When they moved the steamboats and were supporting Fort Mellon [Sanford] they could come all the way down the St. Johns River through Lake George by what is now Deland right into Sanford, that’s the end of the navigable water. By canoe you could go upstream towards Titusville in Brevard County. So they built Fort Gatlin which is just north of here. They built Fort Christmas and Fort Mellon. They built them one day’s walk apart so you could leave Ft. Mellon in the morning and be here, just at the stream of the Ft. Gatlin by the evening. You could leave Ft. Gatlin and go out to what is now 50, that area, and be at Fort Christmas by sunset.

The first road connecting… Daytona Beach, New Symrna is here, right here, where King’s Road starts with the king’s sugar and rum going north.

Joseph P. Bumby, Bumby Hardware, Bumby Home over there by T.G. Lee, he had the first pony express route. So the mail would come in by steamboat to Sanford to Ft. Mellon. And Joseph Bumby would put it in his pony satchel and bring the mail to Orlando…

LISTEN Part III (11:58)


The first railroad was Tallahassee down to the mouth of the Wakulla River 30 miles to Fort Leon. That railroad was built before we were a state, 1834.

Who opened up Florida? A guy who had a saw factory up north. Hamilton Disston. He purchased four million acres basically from here, Conway, all the way up to Lake Okeechobee, for 25 cents an acre… but they had two conditions. They sold the land. You got to put in canals and drain this land to make it habitable and this opened up for development and railroad…

Pine Castle, that’s why we’re here to celebrate Pine Castle Days; 1883, this was the railroad in this part of the world. It started at Ft. Mellon right here which is Sanford. It went right down to Longwood, which you all know, and then to Altamonte. And then, the next step, they never even heard of Winter Park, they stopped at Osceola which is somewhere between Florida Hospital and Winter Park and then it came to Orlando, And then after Orlando, Jernigan, where the Merita Bread Factory is where Mr. Jernigan had his country store. And then Fort Gatlin is right here off of this and then Pine Castle and then Lake Butler out to the west and Lake Conway to the east and then straight to Kissimmee. This picture shows you why Orlando and Pine Castle were so important. Because they were halfway between the start of the railroad at Lake Monroe to the end of the road at Kissimmee. Now I’ve already told you this is the port, four days to Jacksonville, this was the port 53 days to Fort Myers. But this railroad connected those in 1883. It opened up not only Pine Castle. It opened this up to a whole new world….

Painting by Wayne Hovis

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Thomas Tart and Florida's First Transportation System

Thomas Tart presents Florida's First Transportation System: Steamboats and Trains at the Pine Castle Women's Club, December 15, 2013. The Honorable Th...

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