Sanford, finally

Richard Wallis <vandalialine@...>

One last bit of business from me--I promise it's the last--concerning the S&E.

There is a bit of historical folklore surrounding the construction of the Sanford & Everglades that I believe needs attention, if not correction.  It is perpetuated in part by a number of recent popular accounts.  Here's just one...

The story goes like this:  The wealthy celery farmers who operated in the so-called "celery delta" to the east and southeast of Sanford, unable to induce the Atlantic Coast Line to build a spur to serve them, built their own line, and then tried to "bluff" the ACL into buying them out, thus paying for the construction.  To pull off this bit of extortion--so the story goes--they named their railroad the Sanford and Everglades, suggesting the supposed goal of the proposed road.  This, it is said, was guaranteed to make the ACL think a major competitor was on the horizon and scare the big railroad into buying them out to stop them.

Maybe it's just me, but I have a problem with the plausability of this scenario.  For one thing, it presumes that ACL management was a bunch of brainless boobs unable to see through the sham.  Since the railroad had divisional offices in Sanford it is in conceivable that its local officers were oblivious to local politics and the economic lay of the land, and did not report their suspicions to HQ.  Moreover, they had already had enough dealings with the supposed recalcitrant faction to be well aware of their intentions.

ACL management had to be fully cognizent of the facts surrounding the S&E's formation, organization, and especially, its financial arrangements.  The company filed with the state to issue a mortgage of something like $50,000, hardly enough to construct the line that eventually materialized, much less extend it 250 miles south into the everglades.  (My understanding is that, at the time, there was ongoing discussion of draining substantial portions of the swampland for agriculture.  If so, adding "Everglades" to the title might have attracted investor attention and aid in selling the bonds being issued.) 

And so, after over a year of fanfare and publicity, the S&E, and its passenger-operations companion, the Sanford Traction Company, began life in late 1910 or early 1911, and from all signs, were ignored by the ACL, until 1913.  So, what happened?

Unfortunately, given the dearth of available records, we can only speculate, but one item suggests a different kind of extortion carried off by the celery farmers, this one eminently successful.  Sometime late in 1912 or early 1913, some of the S&E's customers--almost certainly the same folks who owned the capital stock of the S&E--brought a regulatory action against the S&E and ACL over rates on produce shipped northward.  This action went through the Florida Railroad Commission, and from there to the Interstate Commerce Commission.  But then, amazingly enough, the ACL purchased the track and franchises of the S&E during the latter half of 1913 and, voila, the regulatory action vanished.  In fact, the ICC dismissed it because the complainants failed to show up for the scheduled hearings on the matter.

So, the celery farmers were indeed finally able to force the ACL into buying their railroad; it just looks like it wasn't with the kind of romantic bluff contained in the popular folklore.

Richard Wallis

PS--The above ruminations were cobbled together from a variety of sources including Florida RR Commission reports, Poor's Manual, ICC Reports. etc.