Railroads Change Florida
Teacher’s Guide for Railroad Documents

Background Information

The Internal Improvement Act of 1855 granted railroad companies land in exchange for new tracks. The state government supported the railroads because better transportation would help facilitate a stronger economy for Florida. With state support, railroad developers began linking East and West Florida. Senator David L. Yulee became the president of the Florida Railroad, completed in 1860, that connected the port cities of Fernandina and Cedar Key.

New railway construction progressed slowly until the Civil War. Union attacks destroyed some sections of the Florida railroads. Florida's Confederate government temporarily removed tracks in other locations to prevent Union forces from using the railroads.

The Confederate government moved to seize existing rails to reuse the iron for new rail lines to transport troops and supplies. Despite some cooperation between railroad owners and the Confederate government, railroad operators such as David Yulee met the state's efforts to take over lines with resistance-and even legal action.

During the 1880s and 1890s, Henry Flagler expanded train lines through Jacksonville and down the East coast to Miami. Before the arrival of the railroad, Miami was a town of fewer than 300 people. The mail was delivered on foot by a postal carrier who walked barefoot along the beach. When Miami stayed warm and green during the great freeze of 1894-95, Flagler was convinced that it was worth expanding his railroad.

Henry Plant had become wealthy running the successful Southern Express during the Civil War. Plant expanded train lines to Tampa and the West coast.

Flagler and Plant built grand hotels to entice vacationers seeking sun and luxury. The railroads connected Florida's developing industrial centers, tourist destinations, agricultural sectors and growing communities.

Governor John Milton vs. David Yulee

Florida had only a few railroads when the Civil War began. Union attacks destroyed some sections of the Florida railroads. Florida's Confederate government temporarily removed tracks in other locations to prevent Union forces from using the railroads.

The Confederate government also moved to seize existing rails to reuse the iron for new rail lines to transport troops and supplies. Governor Milton advocates seizing iron rails from the Florida Railroad Company to build new rail lines to transport troops and supplies. David L. Yulee, president of the Florida Railroad Company, disagrees.

Tallahassee Rail Road Company Scrip

The Tallahassee Rail Road Company issued its own scrip, which could be used for goods or services provided by the company. Although not legal tender, it was printed by the American Bank Note Company and commonly used as currency. These notes are dated 1866 and 1870.

Engineer's Report, 1891

The Carrabelle, Tallahassee and Georgia Railroad Company was founded on January 5, 1891, by the Georgia and Florida Investment Company of New York and Paisley, Scotland, for the purpose of building a railroad from Carrabelle on the Gulf of Mexico northward through Tallahassee, and connecting to Thomasville, Georgia. 

Henry Flagler

Henry Flagler was the founder of what became the Florida East Coast Railway. During the 1880s and 1890s, he expanded train lines through Jacksonville and down the East coast to Miami. Flagler began the Overseas Extension in 1906 to connect Miami to Key West. This ambitious and innovative project required money, earth-moving, man-hours, and miles of bridges.

In this letter from Henry M. Flagler to Ellen Call Long, Flagler describes the arrival of the "Spanish Stones." Flagler then replies to Long's request for information regarding his decision to move to and invest in the state of Florida. Ellen Call Long was the daughter of Richard Keith Call, territorial governor of Florida.

Some Useful Questions to Ask:

  • What role did railroads play in the development of Florida?

Use to Illustrate:

  • How railroads changed Florida.

Document Analysis Worksheets
Created by the National Archives

Document analysis is the first step in working with primary sources. Teach your students to think through primary source documents for contextual understanding and to extract information to make informed judgments. The document analysis worksheets created by the National Archives and Records Administration are in the public domain.

Sunshine State Standards

  • SS.4.A.1.1: Analyze primary and secondary resources to identify significant individuals and events throughout Florida history.
  • SS.4.A.6.1: Describe the economic development of Florida's major industries.
    Examples are timber, citrus, cattle, tourism, phosphate, cigar.
  • SS.4.A.6.3: Describe the contributions of significant individuals to Florida.
    Examples are John Gorrie, Henry Flagler, Henry Plant, Lue Gim Gong, Vincente Martinez Ybor, Julia Tuttle, Mary McLeod Bethune, Thomas Alva Edison, James Weldon Johnson, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.
  • SS.5.A.1.1: Use primary and secondary sources to understand history.
  • SS.5.A.6.3: Examine 19th century advancements (canals, roads, steamboats, flat boats, overland wagons, Pony Express, railroads) in transportation and communication.
  • SS.8.A.1.5: Identify, within both primary and secondary sources, the author, audience, format, and purpose of significant historical documents.
  • SS.8.A.4.5: Explain the causes, course, and consequences of the 19th century transportation revolution on the growth of the nation's economy.
    Examples may include, but are not limited to, roads, canals, bridges, steamboats, railroads.
  • SS.912.A.1.1: Describe the importance of historiography, which includes how historical knowledge is obtained and transmitted, when interpreting events in history.
  • SS.912.A.1.2: Utilize a variety of primary and secondary sources to identify author, historical significance, audience, and authenticity to understand a historical period.
  • SS.912.A.3.4: Determine how the development of steel, oil, transportation, communication, and business practices affected the United States economy.
    Examples may include, but are not limited to, railroads, the telegraph, pools, holding companies, trusts, corporations, contributed to westward expansion, expansion of trade and development of new industries, vertical and horizontal integration.
  • SS.912.A.3.13: Examine key events and key people in Florida history as they relate to United States history.
    Examples are the railroad industry; bridge construction in the Florida Keys; the cattle industry; the cigar industry; the influence of Cuban, Greek and Italian immigrants; Henry B. Plant; William Chipley; Henry Flagler; George Proctor; Thomas DeSaille Tucker; Hamilton Disston.

Florida Standards

  • LAFS.4.RI.1.1: Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
  • LAFS.4.RI.1.2: Determine the main idea of a text and explain how it is supported by key details; summarize the text.
  • LAFS.4.RI.1.3: Explain events, procedures, ideas, or concepts in a historical, scientific, or technical text, including what happened and why, based on specific information in the text.
  • LAFS.4.RI.3.9: Integrate information from two texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably.
  • LAFS.4.RI.1.1: Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
  • LAFS.K12.R.1.1: Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
  • LAFS.68.RH.1.1: Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.
  • LAFS.68.RH.1.2: Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.
  • LAFS.910.RH.1.1: Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.
  • LAFS.910.RH.1.2: Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.
  • LAFS.1112.RH.1.1: Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.
  • LAFS.1112.RH.1.2: Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.
  • LAFS.1112.RH.2.6: Evaluate authors’ differing points of view on the same historical event or issue by assessing the authors’ claims, reasoning, and evidence.
  • LAFS.1112.RH.3.8: Evaluate an author’s premises, claims, and evidence by corroborating or challenging them with other information.
  • LAFS.1112.RH.3.9: Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.