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Train passing through St. Augustine Florida


Before the turn of the century, when the automobile was still in its infancy and country roads all but impassable, people still enjoyed gadding about just as much as they do today, and they satisfied their wanderlust with the railway excursions.

For example, on July 4, 1890, the railroad cut its rates on travel from Jacksonville, Ormond and Palatka to St. Augustine, and it wasn't only an inexpensive train ride that they offered their customers. Among the treats advertised as awaiting the excursionist in the Oldest City were baseball at the Ponce de Leon ground, sailing and rowing races, and in the evening two fancy-dress balls, one at Fort Marion (now Castillo de San Marcos) and the other at the North Beach Pavillion. On summer weekends, citizens of Palatka could get to St. Augustine's ocean breezes for 75 cents round trip, and the "flier" advertising the low fare promised that "an agent of the St. Augustine and North Beach Railway will be on the special train to sell tickets to North Beach at greatly reduced rates." There was a fine trip offered on Thanksgiving of 1895, although rates from Palatka and Jacksonville had by then gone up to $1.50 round trip.

Even in those days Turkey Day meant football. Part of the program included a game of football between the Jacksonville and the St. Augustine teams in the forenoon" and in the afternoon there were bicycle races and other athletic events. That night, in the Alcazar Casino, the visitors could watch the water sports, and after that there was a grand ball and concert with music furnished by the 3rd Artillery band.

There were also excursions to the camp meetings in Sweetwater (fare round trip from St. Augustine just 50 cents), where jubilee singers and love feasts were part of the day's events.

When the Hotel Royal Poinciana opened in Palm Beach, a three-day trip down could be enjoyed for just $6.00. The travellers went in style in parlor cars to see the new hotel and were allowed 20 minutes for dinner at Ormond Junction. In the summertime, the railroad featured an even bigger bargain-round trip fare was only $2.00 and there was a refreshment car on the special train "with everything to satisfy the inner man, presided over by a French chef." When the travellers got there, they found a free ride on a ferry across Lake Worth was available, and the same ship offered a sightseeing ride on the lake for only 25 cents.

Just as land developers today fly their prospective customers to Florida to see their real estate, the entrepreneurs of that day used the trains. An advertisement from the year 1897 urges northerners to visit Hallandale in Dade County which they called the "new Klondyke" where, instead of mining gold, investors could make their fortune growing golden oranges.

The Halland Land Company would get you there for half fare and then would sell you 15 acres of South Florida for just $320. (The heirs of those who took advantage of this offer are probably happy today.) An excursion to St. Augustine on St. Johns Day, June 24th, in 1895 gave people an opportunity to look at lots only 7 miles from St. Augustine which sold for $10 apiece.

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