It’s Better in the Daylight

It’s happening again. All over the United States, Americans are waking up groggy, mumbling curses at the inventors of Daylight Savings Time. Here at Florida Memory, our coping strategy has been to gulp an extra cup of coffee and think about all the reasons daylight is important to the Sunshine State. After all, Florida didn’t get that nickname for nothing!

Having an adequate daily dose of daylight was particularly critical to the Silver Springs Transportation Company, which operated river cruises between Ocala and Palatka in the early 20th century. One of the company’s most popular cruises was called the “daylight route,” so called because it could get passengers between Ocala and Palatka all before dark in a single day. The route included parts of the Silver, Ocklawaha, and St. Johns rivers.

Map from a brochure advertising the "Silver Springs Daylight Route" (1925).

Map from a brochure advertising the “Silver Springs Daylight Route” (1925).

As of 1925, the boats left Ocala at 8:00 every morning on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and left Palatka at the same time every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Passengers were able to enjoy the entire 135-mile journey with the benefit of natural sunlight, which illuminated the many natural wonders along the way. Owing to the weather, these cruises were only offered from January to April annually.

An illustration of one of the Silver Springs Transportation Company's river cruisers, from a brochure advertising the Silver Springs  Daylight Route (1925).

An illustration of one of the Silver Springs Transportation Company’s river cruisers, from a brochure advertising the Silver Springs Daylight Route (1925).

The boats were equipped for luxury. Both the upper and lower decks of the river cruisers were lined with comfortable chairs. Dinner was served at 12 o’clock noon, and a la carte service was available at all hours on board. One-way tickets in either direction cost $10.00, while a round-trip ticket would set you back $19.00. The ticket price covered the cruise, plus transportation by automobile between Ocala and Silver Springs, a glass-bottomed boat tour, and the noontime “dinner” served during the cruise.

View of the Silver River and the

View of the Silver River and the “City of Ocala,” one of the excursion boats that traveled between Ocala and Palatka (circa 1920s).

Visitors raved about their experiences touring these majestic Central Florida waterways. Just as every day comes to an end, however, the sun eventually set on the magnificent “daylight route” cruises. Automobile transportation was becoming the preferred method of travel, and the arrival of the Great Depression suppressed demand for luxury boat transportation.

Glass-bottomed boat tours are still popular at Silver Springs, although they are confined to the Silver River. Luxury trips from Ocala to Palatka and Welaka are now the stuff of memory, captured in photographs and bits of ephemera like passenger tickets and brochures. The map and boat illustration from this post, for example, come from a 1925 brochure advertising the Silver Springs Daylight Route, part of the Florida Collection at the State Library.

If these kinds of historical resources interest you, consider visiting the State Library and Archives to learn more about our collections. The State Library’s Florida Collection and Ephemera File contain historic brochures for tourist attractions and railroad lines dating back to the 19th century. In addition, the State Archives holds several collections from Hubbard Hart and other steamboat line operators. Whatever your Florida research question may be, the State Library and Archives likely have the materials to help. Visit info.florida.gov to search the catalogs of the State Library and Archives, and search Florida Memory to discover digitized historic photos and documents.

Headin’ Down the Waldo Canal

How long do you suppose it would take you to drive 11 miles? Maybe 15 minutes? Probably less if you had an interstate highway at your disposal. And we do it all the time; folks all over Florida are obliged to drive that far and much farther sometimes just to get to work, school, or the grocery store. These days, it’s not much of a hassle to drive 11 miles, but for residents of Melrose, Florida trying to ship oranges and lumber and other products in the late 1800s, traveling that distance to the nearest railroad was a real pain in the neck. Until they decided to do something about it, that is.

Portion of an official Florida highway map showing the area around Waldo and Melrose (1974).

Portion of an official Florida highway map showing the area around Waldo and Melrose (1974).

Even in the late nineteenth century, transportation in the center of the state was difficult. The railroad from Fernandina to Cedar Key was in operation, but getting freight goods to a shipping point on the railroad could be quite a challenge. Roads were sandy and impractical for this purpose. Water transportation, where it could be used, was much more efficient. The citizens of the town of Melrose at the south end of Lake Santa Fe badly needed access to the railroad, but the nearest depot was at Waldo, eleven miles away across punishing terrain.

A reproduction of an 1885 map showing the route of the Waldo Canal linking lakes Alto and Santa Fe. The line extending southeast from Waldo was the proposed route for the Florida Central Railroad between Waldo and Tampa.

A reproduction of an 1885 map showing the route of the Waldo Canal linking lakes Alto and Santa Fe. The line extending southeast from Waldo was the proposed route for the Florida Central Railroad between Waldo and Tampa.

No river ran directly between Melrose and Waldo, but lakes Santa Fe and Alto very nearly made the connection. The lakes were separated by a narrow strip of land that many believed could be crossed by a canal, linking the two bodies of water together and creating a faster, safer water route for transporting trade goods. The Santa Fe Canal Company was chartered in 1877 to begin work on the canal, and construction was completed in 1881. When it was first opened, the passage was about 30 feet wide and about five feet deep. Boats could now gather freight from the communities along the southern end of Lake Santa Fe and get them all the way to the north end of Lake Alto, where they were loaded onto a spur line and carried to Waldo and transferred to the Fernandina-Cedar Key Railroad. A short canal from Lake Alto toward Waldo was also dug, although it never reached all the way into town.

Workers digging the Waldo Canal with the aid of a dredge built especially for the project (1883).

Workers digging the Waldo Canal with the aid of a dredge built especially for the project (1883).

For all its usefulness, the Waldo Canal suffered from a serious case of bad luck. The steamer F.S. Lewis, which had been built in Waldo especially for use in the local lakes connected by the new canal, was a bundle of problems. Its drive shaft broke on one of its first voyages, disabling its paddlewheel and stranding its passengers. Its large size pushed its hull too deep into the water for it to make deliveries or pick up goods at smaller stops like Earleton. On one occasion, the steamboat capsized during a storm. The boat was righted again, only to catch fire and sink while tied up at Shooter’s Landing on Lake Santa Fe.

The F.S. Lewis, a steamer used to transport goods and passengers across lakes Alto and Santa Fe (circa 1880s).

The F.S. Lewis, a steamer used to transport goods and passengers across lakes Alto and Santa Fe (circa 1880s).

The F.S. Lewis was replaced by the Alert, a tugboat purchased in Jacksonville and transported to Alachua County by flatcar. The Alert was smaller, more fit for service than luxury, but it was sufficient to resume the transportation of freight and passengers across the lakes and through the canal. That is, when the canal was not filling up with sand. With a depth of only a few feet, the canal was frequently blocked by soil washing in from the sides, and workers would have to dig it out before traffic could resume. Water hyacinths also took their toll over the years.

The Alert, a smaller vessel used after the F.S. Lewis was destroyed (circa 1880s).

The Alert, a smaller vessel used after the F.S. Lewis was destroyed (circa 1880s).

The death of the Waldo Canal as a commercial enterprise came partly as an act of Nature and partly as a result of man-made technology. In the 1890s, a series of severe freezes devastated the citrus industry in the area near Melrose, driving citrus growers southward and depriving the canal of some of its biggest shipping customers. Not long afterward, the arrival of the automobile led to the construction of new roads to replace the old sandy trails that had been so tough to navigate in earlier years. The canal itself remained open to small craft, but the era of inland steamboat transportation was coming to an end in Florida.

A more modern view of Lake Santa Fe from the western shore (2007).

A more modern view of Lake Santa Fe from the western shore (2007).

Did you know the Florida Photographic Collection has over 1,300 images of steamboats in Florida? Find a steamboat that once operated in your favorite part of Florida and share our photo of it on Facebook!