Orange and Seminole County’s First Railroad
The legacy of that first narrow-gauge railroad from Sanford to Orlando still lives on today through the SunRail.
The first railroad in Seminole County was a narrow-gauge line stretching 23 miles between Sanford and Orlando. It was initiated by E. W. Henck, the founder of Longwood, and Dr. C. C. Haskell of Maitland.
The line was constructed in under a year and reached Orlando on October 1, 1880. The next day a large gala was thrown to celebrate the accomplishment. Throngs of people from Sanford piled on to the train cars that had been shipped in by steamship on the St. Johns River.
Hordes of people held on to flat bed train cars in some cases to make the trip. Fortunately, no one was dumped off or injured on the journey.
There was so much excitement in the streets of Orlando. Cheers and the smell of barbecue smoking filled the air. The famous mini cannon of Sanford was lugged along on one of the cars, and it was filled with gunpowder and Spanish moss and fired off at regular celebratory intervals.
Regular service of the South Florida Railroad between the towns started on November 12, 1880 with scheduled stops at Sanford, Belair, Soldier Creek, Longwood, Snows (Altamonte Springs), Maitland, Osceola (Winter Park), Wilcox, and Orlando.
One train per day made the trip each way, which took one hour and forty minutes. First heading northbound to Sanford at 7:00 AM and then departing on the return trip to Orlando at 4:00 PM. By 1882 the railway was extended southward to Kissimmee.
At the time, the line did not have connections to any other main line railroads. So it only facilitated travel within what was then all Orange County. Folks coming to the region from other areas either had to cross difficult trails by horse or wagon. Visitors from up north could arrive via passenger steamboat down the St. Johns from Jacksonville.
The legacy of this first railway lives on today. It has continued in service for these almost 140 years. Today’s SunRail still follows this original path.