Exploring Northwest Florida
Exploring Northwest Florida
A visit to the West Florida Railroad Museum in Milton is a must if you love trains and railroad history.
In the heyday of the railroads, the little town of Milton was an important stop on the Pensacola and Atlantic Railroad route. Letters, packages and people rode the trains to and from the gulf coast, passing by or even stopping at the small green and white wooden train depot.
Today the historic train station is filled with artifacts and memorabilia of the days when the iron horse was the utmost in modern transportation. What once was the depot waiting room is now a model train store where you can purchase trains and accessories. There are also model train layouts and a garden railroad that is maintained by the Emerald Coast Garden Railway Club.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, trains opened up the wild beauty of Northwest Florida to the rest of the country. For centuries, the thriving West Florida city of Pensacola had been accessible only by water or by a painstaking trek through the Florida wilderness. In 1882, the Pensacola and Atlantic Railroad changed all that.
Chartered on March 4, 1881, the Pensacola and Atlantic Railroad was created to connect Pensacola with the eastern part of the state beyond the Apalachicola River. Construction of the railroad began in August and the first train arrived in Milton a year later on August 15, 1882. Service from Pensacola to Jacksonville began in May 1883.
During construction, the Pensacola and Atlantic Railroad had received financial backing from the Louisville and Nashville Railroad, or L & N for short. In July 1885, the Pensacola and Atlantic was incorporated into the L & N system which served the West Florida region for the next 97 years. Today, trains still travel through Milton, the county seat of Santa Rosa County, but the train station built to serve passengers and freight now has a different purpose.
Kids and grown-up train lovers as well will enjoy visiting the West Florida Railroad Museum. Located on highway 191 in Milton just south of U. S. Highway 90, the museum is dedicated to the preservation of the railroad history of Northwest Florida and South Alabama. Housed in the town’s historic train station, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, are a variety of artifacts and memorabilia from the L & N, Frisco and other railroad companies.
The original railroad station built in 1882 was one of the first on the line. It burned in 1907 and the current depot was built in 1909 on the site of the old one. Inside, visitors will find the freight office as it might have looked in 1907, and the freight warehouse which displays lots of railroad artifacts, photographs, and model trains. The passenger waiting room is now a model train store.
Outside, several train cars line the museum property, including a Frisco caboose built in 1927. L & N Dining Car #2722, the “Globe Coffee Shop” built in 1929, still serves diners who want to book special gatherings or birthday parties, and L&N Baggage-Dormitory Car #1652, a Pullman sleeper built in 1917, houses the museum office and archives. Also on site are a Bridge Tender’s House and a Tool House built around 1906.
The West Florida Railroad Museum is staffed and maintained by volunteers, train lovers who like nothing better than hanging around trains. The museum sponsors two model railroad clubs, The West Florida Model Railroad Club, which operates an HO layout in the Bridge Keepers House, and The Emerald Coast Garden Railway Club, which has constructed a 45 x 90 foot Garden Railroad layout across the street behind the museum.
Club members own their own model trains and bring them to the Garden railroad to operate them. Everything in the garden is weather resistant and the plants and buildings are to scale. The trains have digital controls, and as club member Paul Weston puts it, all the bells and whistles – literally. Club members can generally be found operating their trains on Saturdays between 9 AM and 3 PM.
The West Florida Railroad Museum is located about 20 miles east of Pensacola in Milton Florida, at 5003 Henry Street, right next to the railroad tracks. The museum is free (donations are happily accepted) and open to the public on Friday and Saturday from 10 AM to 3 PM. For information, call 850-623-3645 or visit West Florida Railroad Museum.