The Old Stagecoach Line

Imagine you wanted to take a trip to Tampa this weekend. How would you get there? Would you travel by car, by airplane, or maybe by bus? If we were living a hundred years ago, you might even choose to go by steamship or by train. Now imagine a time when none of those forms of transportation were an option for most destinations. How did people get around Florida in those days? One option was to take the stagecoach line.

Illustration of a stop along the stagecoach line on the King's Road, from Charles W. Bockelman's The King's Road to Florida (1975).

Illustration of a stop along the stagecoach line on the King’s Road in northeastern Florida, from Charles W. Bockelman’s The King’s Road to Florida (1975).

The stagecoach lines in Florida started out as routes for the U.S. Postal Service, which needed to establish good roads for transporting mail from place to place. Railroads and steamships carried the mail whenever possible, but for many frontier post offices in the interior these simply weren’t available yet.

Travelers needed good roads as much as letters did, and over time the Postal Service began turning its routes over to private companies, which built more comfortable horse-drawn coaches to carry both mail and passengers between communities. One of the earliest examples of this was the Concord Stagecoach Line, which connected Tampa and Palatka. The Concord was later purchased by Hubbard L. Hart, who operated steamships along the St. Johns and Ocklawaha rivers. As steamboat and railroad transportation became more widely available, stage lines were often integrated into the companies that operated them, connecting Florida’s main traffic routes with even the smallest communities.

Broadside announcing Hubbard Hart’s management of the old Concord Stagecoach Line (1855).

Stagecoach lines were a professional affair like modern bus or air lines, with tickets and schedules and regular routes. The ride, however, was anything but smooth. Florida’s rough and varied terrain made any cross-state journey difficult and lengthy. Primitive unpaved roads permitted speeds of only a few miles per hour, and crossing rivers often involved waiting for ferries. Most trips took multiple days, with passengers staying in hotels or boarding houses along the way. The Concord stage line between Tampa and Palatka, for example, stopped at Ocala and Melendez (modern-day Brooksville) overnight.

The stagecoach lines were a handy option for early travelers, but their time grew short once the railroad appeared on the scene. Florida was slow to exploit the “iron horse” at first, but after the Civil War railroads began criss-crossing the state, rendering many of the old stage routes obsolete. Trains simply carried mail and passengers faster and more efficiently than horse-drawn carriages.

A few relics of the stagecoach era can still be found here and there around Florida. Several counties have roads with names like “Old Post Road” or “Stagecoach Road” indicating where stage lines once operated. One community near Wesley Chapel even has the name “Stagecoach Village.” The old Concord Stage Line ran through the area a few miles away, and an explanatory historical marker is located along one of the main streets.

Historical marker for the Concord Stagecoach Road. Photo courtesy of Jeff Miller of the West Paco Historical Society.

Historical marker for the Concord Stagecoach Road. Photo courtesy of Jeff Miller of the West Paco Historical Society.

What former highways pass through your Florida community? Get the conversation started by posting a comment or sharing this post on Facebook or Twitter!