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6: Conclusion

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The Beach Railroad Men, the officers and principal stockholders of the two pre-Flagler railroads, were entrepreneurs, men who had the right glandular balance to take risks and build railroads to the coast of Jacksonville. They were real estate developers, bankers, lawyers, businessmen, ex-soldiers, and timber barons but none earned his living from a railroad even though a few were involved in more than one railroad. Some were founders of the largest banks in Jacksonville, the Barnett National Bank by Barnett, the Atlantic National Bank by Denham, and the First National Bank by Hubbard.

They involved themselves from a variety of motives, The desire to open land to real estate development was one; many developed property in addition to some other enterprise. Civic pride—the desire to see Jacksonville prosper—was another. Acquiring a beach cottage to beat the summer urban heat was another. Being part of railroading, the chic form of transportation was another. Many thought their railroad ventures—the Jacksonville & Atlantic and the Jacksonville, Mayport, and Pablo—would be profitable, especially since the railroad corporations were subsidized by governments.

Florida governments, as did governments throughout the United States, understood that the vast public domain needed to be populated if the state was going to thrive and that meant getting the land privatized and populated. Private railroad companies became the means to that end. Millions of acres of public property were given to small groups of private individuals organized as profit seeking corporations in exchange for the corporations building railroads (a means of communication and transportation that would open the hinterland) and selling land. The two Jacksonville roads were small so they did not receive as much as the Flagler system but what they received was important. Profit came from the land and, in the case of the Florida East Coast Railway, hotels.[1]

The Beach Railroad Men did risk personal capital. As we have seen, Burbridge managed to find co-investors for the J&A as did subsequent J&A presidents. One stockholder, Christopher, built a luxury hotel in Pablo Beach only to lose it to fire; he did not rebuild. The leaders of the J&A were among the elite of Jacksonville and thus could attract capital. Wallace's co-investors for the JM&P were fewer, the railroad was more his personal property, but they may have risked a greater percentage of their personal wealth.

The 1880s was a railroad building decade, a boom decade. Many railroads failed in the 1870s; many short line railroads failed or were absorbed by larger roads. The Pennsylvania Railroad, for example, was created by the consolidation of many small roads. In Florida, Henry Flagler and Henry B. Plant, and others were building or expanding railroads in Florida, creating two great systems. The United States economy was expanding and need lumber; Florida pine forests had been little touched. The river and then the railroads provided the means of shipping it. The U. S. government spent millions building the jetties and dredging the river (a constant necessity) to allow deeper draft boats—ocean vessels—to penetrate to the center of Jacksonville.

Jacksonville enjoyed the advantages of its lumber industry, its location in northeast Florida on a major river, its role as an entrepôt for cotton and livestock grown west of the city, citrus, and tourism from colder climates. Flagler, after all, went to Jacksonville from New York as a tourist. Cotton and livestock from west of Jacksonville.

In 1880, there were only19,431 people in all of Duval County, Florida of whom 8,580 were white and 10,850 were African-American with one person identified as Chinese. African-Americans constituted 55.8% of the population. Jacksonville itself (not counting its small suburbs) contained just 7,650 people of whom 3,991 were white, that is, 52% were white. At least half of these were female and, thus, not "players" in those days nor were children. If we look at the county population in order to account for the people of both Jacksonville and its suburbs and assuming half were female, then the white male population was 4,290 but that includes children. The 1890 Census recorded only 17,201 persons in Jacksonville and 26,800 persons in Duval County. So, a few dozen white men could easily dominate the business life. [2]

Of the forty men, most were not native Floridians. McQuaid came from Ireland; MacDuff, Archibald, and Wallace were Scotsman; Fitzgerald was English; Cashen was Canadian; and Solary was Italian. Burbridge and Christopher had migrated from Missouri; Griffin, Schumaker, and Spinner from New York; Greeley from Maine; Gilbert from Connecticut; Burrows from Pennsylvania; the two Daniel brothers and Togni from South Carolina; Jones from Georgia; Hubbard from North Carolina; Taliaferro, Archer, and Barnett from Virginia; Haworth from Indiana; Scott from Kentucky; and Yeomans from Ohio. At least half (20) were from states other than Florida. Since I did not find the birthplace of seven, the number might be higher. Even among the Floridians, some, such as the Stocktons and Ledwith, migrated to Jacksonville. Buckman, the lawyer, real estate developer, politician, and the "father" of the university system, was born in Jacksonville. Florida was a lightly-populated state. Given the fact that there were a limited number of white male Floridians in Duval County, immigrants from other states or nations had excellent economic opportunities. Those who emigrate from their homes tend to be ambitious, to be risk takers.

The Beach Railroad Men knew each other well. Most were members of the Board of Trade, the businessmen's organization created to foster the growth of economic opportunity in Jacksonville and protect their own interests. The involved real estate development was high as were the number of lumbermen or merchants. They and their wives moved in the same social circles. Some were connected by marriage. At the end of the 1880s but more particularly in the 1890s, the Stockton family emerged as major players in the county. Thomas T. Stockton was controlled the Florida Times-Union; his brothers J. N. C. and Telfair were involved in both railroads. It was all a bit incestuous.
The JM&P group was not as well connected as the J&A group even though J.N.C. Stockton was deeply involved once Wallace died. Wallace took the Togni and Solary as partners and Burrow and Haworth of Mayport but none of whom appeared to be in the Jacksonville elite or was part off one of the Jacksonville banks. The JM&P paid cash to build its tracks and almost all of it came from Wallace. Wallace's death meant his railroad could not afford to make the necessary logistical connections. Stockton, representing the widow, sold the business to Scott, Harman, and Yeomans. They not only refused to pay what they had promised they also used the property to float loans in New York, earned some income, and let it go bankrupt. They seemed to care little about Jacksonville.

And then came Flagler, buying the remains of both Beach railroads and melding the J&A into the Florida East Coast system and buying the Florida Times-Union to be make sure it always represented railroad interests. Neither Flagler nor the FEC after he died in 1913 could make money from the railroad. He spent most of his fortune and had to borrow more. The FEC declared bankruptcy in 1931. Flagler and the FEC couldn't make money from the railroad but did earn profits from the hotels except for the Continental Hotel in Atlantic Beach.

Railroads to the oceanfront as a profitable business was not to be. There simply were not enough people living on the beach. Only 326 lived there year around in 1900. Tourism for four months or well-to-do Jacksonville residents staying temporarily in cottages did not generate enough passenger traffic. The opening of the paved Atlantic Boulevard in 1910 began undercutting the Mayport Branch. The switch from coal to oil meant that carrying coal was ending; that freight was a main source of income for the Mayport Branch.

The Beach Railroad men benefited from building the railroads even though the roads themselves lost money. Without their existence the land at the beach would not have been sold and settled. Because of them, Jacksonville Beach was founded. Then Flagler entered the beach because of the J&A and created Atlantic Beach. The coast would have been developed eventually but it could have occurred decades later. We cannot know what might have happened. What we do know is that a portion of the Jacksonville economic elite changed the course of Florida history. The Jacksonville & Atlantic, in its incarnations, created a common bond among these entrepreneurs.

[1] William E. Brown, Jr. and Karen Hudson, " Henry Flagler and the Model Land Company, " Tequesta, 56 (56 (1996), pp. 46-76; Dovell, J. E., “The Railroads and Public Lands of Florida, 1879-1905.” Florida Historical Quarterly, Vol. 34:3 (January 1956) , pp. 226-258. Florida Land and Improvement, The Disston Lands of Florida. (New York: South Publishing Company, 1885).

[2] Department of the Interior, Census, 1880.

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