Stop 39: The Seaboard Coastline Depot
Seaboard Airline Depot Site location (you will be viewing the space from the 8th Street sidewalk as building has been torn down).
Ethel Cannon McIntyre served as a Depot Agent for Seaboard Depot agent for fifty years until retirement in October of 1968. She recalled the oldest depot near Church Street that preceded the 1918 depot which was demolished in 1971. As the wrecking crews pulled in, McIntyre reminisced the poignant scenes of World War II servicemen coming and going and even two carloads of German prisoners of war arriving. She revealed the emotions, joy, and anxiety of young people who were arriving as new students or from summer break to study at St Leo College from across the country.
‘Mrs. Mac’ as she was called, loved sharing her experiences with what she called the “crack” passenger trains–the Orange Blossom Special from Boston, the Silver Meteor, and the Silver Star which traversed from St. Petersburg to New York. She wiped away a tear as she recounted the final passenger train that arrived on April 19, 1967 with a group of third and fourth graders who boarded the train at Bushnell and rode the final trip to Dade City. That glee and excitement was a real part of the passenger train experience!
Dade City Mayor of 2022, Jim Shive reminisced that he had ridden the train into Seaboard Coastline Station when he was only seven years old, an experience that obviously evoked a bit of emotion. He detailed the various buildings and businesses that surrounded the depot.
In 1988, as the train industry was waning, Dade City was struggling with whether they would keep the train in downtown Dade City. Some thirty years later, many do not recognize that a depot traversed downtown Dade City and shaped much of its history.
Henry B. Plant’s railroad chartered as Florida Southern Railway Company was the initial company to bring railroad transportation into Pasco County in the 1880s. Surveying had begun around 1883 for the placement of the tracks but they were not ready for use until 1887.
The first depot was built in a field that was a mile north of Fort Dade. Lawyer and historian Bill Dayton said that the depot was near the intersection of Martin Luther King Boulevard and U.S. 98 Bypass.
The next year Seaboard Railroad originally called Ulee Road arrived. Citizens really wanted the railroad to come directly through the middle of town. They planned, lobbied, and maneuvered–even collected $150 and some building lots as gifts to entice Seaboard. Not surprising from other findings, Henry W Coleman and William N. Ferguson, mercantile geniuses that you’ve heard about on the historical tour even convinced the railroad agent to put the railways near the Edwinola Hotel and of course near their store. Their efforts paid off and from there the merchants grew and thrived for years around the railway and depot.
The first Seaboard depot burned down around 1900 but the rails continued to run. A second depot was built about 100 yards south and then modified in 1927.
For many years public sentiment abounded around the issue of a more accommodating and enlarged Seaboard Depot. By 1924, the Dade City Chamber of Commerce and the local Kiwanis Club emblazoned an intensive effort to upgrade the passenger depot so it could better accommodate the crowds of travelers. They implored the Seaboard company and eventually brought a law suit that went all the way to the Florida Supreme Court. They won their case entitled STATE FLORIDA v. SEABOARD AIR LINE RAILWAY COMPANY in 1927, and it put Dade City on the map. The Florida Supreme Court case is still of course on the books, and an updated depot was completed in November of 1927.
By 1960 passenger service was discontinued as there was more money to be made in freight. Dayton surmised that by the 1950s the popular US motto, “Leave the driving to us” put automobiles as more accessible forms of transportation that had largely overtaken trains.
In 1965, Seaboard and Coast Line railroads merged becoming the Seaboard Coast Line Railroad.
The location of the Seaboard Air Line Railway Depot brands the history of the city of Dade City as significantly as the cherished court house and the Coleman & Ferguson mercantile.