Local Weather Conditions
MarshBunny Notes
The St. Johns River The Intracoastal and Beyond
The Union Cypress Railway

trestleThe old railway trestle is a familiar landmark on the river. You can see the trestle marching across the river, and out in the deep cypress you can see huge stumps of downed trees. Some men we know talk about their dads working on it years ago...stories of working chest deep in swampwater, snakes and alligators to build a railway across the marsh.

Other than watching out not to run into the pilings (if the water is up high enough you can't see them, you have to know they are there!), I hadn't given the old trestle much thought. I've seen it out there forever, but never knew the story behind it. Then one day the questions started lining up...who built the railway, and why?...when was it used?...what was it used for, and why did they quit?...what happened to all the old rails?

Remains of 2850 ft. railway trestle.
The remains of the 2,850 foot railway trestle across the St. Johns.

I started searching the Internet and making phone calls to find the answers. There was surprisingly little information available...until I was given the name of a local historian, Ed Vosatka. Ed was able to give me tons of information - he is quite an expert on the subject and is writing a book about it. He also gives talks on the subject to interested groups, and sets up displays of mill and railway artifacts in local libraries (contact Ed for further information on these subjects).

It turns out that that old railway played a big part in our local history.

mapWay back in the early 1900's Melbourne was almost completely isolated from the interior of the state. Most available transportation was up and down the coast, and that only by rail or steamboat. Cars were just beginning to appear, but the roads were just sandy, often flooded, wagon trails. To get to the interior from Melbourne travelers had to cross a 6-mile wide floodplain and ford the river or use a hand-operated ferry. The nearest railroad or highway crossing of the St. Johns was at Orange City Junction, a long ways away! (Click the map to see a larger image.)

In 1912 the Union Cypress Co. built a 3-story, double band-saw mill in Melbourne. The mill contracted to log all the hardwood in the Hopkins tract - vast areas of marshland, grassland, and timber. A stand of virgin cypress called the Jane Green Swamp provided huge cypress trees.

Union Cypress sawmill.Florida State ArchivesEd Vosatka
Union Cypress Co. sawmill.

The mill was the first big employer in Melbourne with something like 300 men working in the mill and another 200 working out in the timber. It also brought the first electric power to the city, provided by the mill's power plant. (The total electric bill for the city of Melbourne averaged about $175 month.)

Hopkins was the name of the mill town. They had a post office, a boarding house, medical facilities, a church, a theatre, and a park with a swimming pool. Mill workers were paid in company script or coin and could purchase food and clothing at the company store (which eventually became Kempfers).

Loggers for the Union Cypress Co.Florida State ArchivesEd Vosatka
Loggers - 1917
Timber came to the mill over the 18.5 mile standard gauge railway running across the St. Johns to Deer Park - the main logging town where spur lines fanned out into the timber.

The Union Cypress Railway was in operation for 6 years before the Kissimmee Highway (US-192) was opened, giving us our first direct route to the interior. It opened up the prairie lands for settlement and small railside towns sprang up.

When the Kissimmee Highway was closed down for repairs in 1923 and 1924 the Union Cypress trains ferried autos eight miles across the marsh on flat cars for $1.00 each.

In February of 1919 most of downtown Melbourne burnt to the ground, and in August of that same year so did the mill. Melbourne was without power for 4 months until electricity could be obtained from Eau Gallie - a town 5 miles to the north. (Melbourne and Eau Gallie later merged into one city that kept the name of Melbourne.)

Eng. No. 3 of the Union Cypress Railway.Florida State ArchivesEd Vosatka
Engine No. 3 of the Union Cypress Railway
wrecked in Deer Park, 1918.


The Union Cypress Co. regrouped and a new fire-proof mill was begun but never completed. The company shut down in 1925 after the death of Geo. Hopkins.

In 1928 the Foshee Manufacturing Co. took over operations and rebuilt the railway and the St. Johns trestle, but the depression cause the mill to shut down. In 1932 the mill, buildings and railway were all torn down and sold.

>>>> More >>>>

Bookmark and Share
Click for Melbourne, Florida Forecast
Custom Search
© Graphic Mac Design Service 1999 - 2016. All Rights Reserved.
All photos and graphics property of Graphic Mac and may not be used without permission.
Marshbunny Zazzle Gift Shop
FREE Stuff!
Marshbunny Real Florida Gift Shop
Marshbunny Cafeppress Gift Shop