GS&F History "The Suwanee River Route" By Mark Mosely

Suwanee River Route Logo

Rail service to the area south of Macon had it's early beginnings in the early 1870's when a group of investors acquired large holdings of pine timber lands in southern Georgia and northern Florida.

A charter was obtained from the Georgia legislature on September 28, 1881 authorizing the formation of the Georgia Southern and Florida Railroad Company to build a line south from Macon to the crossing of the Savannah, Florida & Western Railroad at Dupont or Homerville in Clinch County near the state line with Florida.

In 1884 the Florida legislature granted a charter for the Macon & Florida Air-Line Railroad Company to extend the GS&F from the state line to Tampa or Charlotte harbor, on the west coast of Florida with a branch line to some point on the St. Johns River in the eastern part of the state. The two separate companies were merged in 1888 as the Georgia Southern & Florida Railroad.

Two important decisions were to be made in the construction of the GS&F - first, that the line would be routed thirty or forty miles west of the originally planned route (passing through Valdosta instead of Homerville or Dupont); and second, that one line would be built in Florida, extending to the town of Palatka on the St. Johns River, connecting there with the Jacksonville, Tampa & Key West Railroad.

In 1887 the Macon Construction Company began construction and line initially reached the Americus, Preston & Lumpkin Railroad some sixty five miles south of Macon. A station was established at this location - the birthplace of what was to become the City of Cordele, Georgia. During this period, the Macon Construction Company was also laying track for the Macon & Birmingham and the Macon & Atlantic railroads, also owned by the same group of investors as the Georgia Southern & Florida.

The Macon & Birmingham RR was building west from namesake to namesake and by the end of January 1890, with only 105 miles of track laid, finally reached LaGrange, Georgia. On the other hand, the Macon & Atlantic rostered only 12 miles of track east from Bruton, Georgia on its quest toward Savannah. Both were operating at a loss. Only the Georgia Southern & Florida, with some 200 miles of track reaching into Florida, was returning a profit.

The decision was made to stop all further construction on the M&A and the M&B and all resources were to go into the GS&F RR in order to for it to quickly reach the busy St. Johns River port of Palatka. By March of 1890 the GS&F RR was completed and opened for service into Palatka and the GS&F generated sufficient profits to enable the Macon Construction Company to begin reinvesting in the M&B RR and the M&A RR.

Because of this misuse of funds, the heavily mortaged Georgia Southern & Florida fell into bankruptcy and receivership in 1891 and was sold under forclosure on April 2, 1895.

In 1895, J. P. Morgan, for the benefit of the SOUTHERN RAILWAY SYSTEM, gained what was thought to be total control of the Georgia Southern & Florida and its 285 miles of track form Macon south to Palatka en toto, and reorganized the GS&F Railroad as the GS&F RAILWAY. However, there remained a large block of outstanding stock in trust that prevented the Southern interests from having more than 44% "operating" control.

Cordele Depot

On November 1, 1902 SOUTHERN RAILWAY SYSTEM allowed the GS&F to enter into the purchase two smaller connecting railroads - the Atlantic, Valdosta & Western RY and the St. Johns River Terminal . The AV&W RY operated 107 miles of track from Valdosta south to Grand Crossing , Florida outside of Jacksonville. In 1901 the AV&W RY and investors had formed the STJRTCO to build seven miles of track from Grand Crossing into Jacksonville. After 1902 the STJRTCO built another 23 miles of track to develop industrial areas in and around Jacksonville.