The decade when railroads almost overwhelmed Pensacola’s Main Street | John Appleyard

As the 21st century develops, some elements of interstate transportation continue to change. However, just over a century ago, it appeared that Pensacola would be all but overrun with steel rails, for many of the city’s business leaders were preparing to invest in new railroad lines to reach far and wide.

Into 1900, the Pensacola, Alabama & Tennessee already was functioning, with dockage at the foot of Spring Street, and Henry McLaughlin’s Pensacola, Mobile and New Orleans had trackage beyond the Perdido River. Here, and across much of the west, railroad fever was rampant, and from many local mills, banks and in commerce came men anxious to invest in what seemed the certain economic future.

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To gain a charter, and so to have priority for rails along Main Street, an investment group had to obtain permission from the state, and an approval from the city council; that required a bonding of $15,000, to begin. Just before midnight ushered in 1900, investors-directors announced that they would proceed shortly with establishment of the Gulf Coast & Southern Railroad, which was to have dockage about where DeVilliers Street intersected Main Street, and to have a route running close to the water, and passing toward the small waterfront settlements taking form some forty miles east of Pensacola.

Next came the announcement (in mid-July) of approval from the council for the Gulf of Mexico Railroad, whose planners said their line would be placed parallel with the Gulf, then west and south beyond the United States border into Mexico. All arrangements had been made legal and the directors, led by A.V. Clubbs, promised that construction would be complete on the first stages by late 1905.

Next came the disclosure that a totally different group of investors had made their payment to the council to proceed with the Pensacola and North Alabama Railroad, with promises for a direct route to the Huntsville area. To add credibility to their announcement, these directors said that they already had purchased two used locomotives from the L & N for work in construction.

Late in 1904, a group of 11 men, including three heads of local banks, reported that the city council and Mayor Charles Bliss had approved their petition for construction of what was to be the Pensacola, Alabama and Western, with projections that would see the line proceed through middle Mississippi, and with a Mississippi River crossing at Natches. The directors also said that their planned construction bond issue was in the making; however they did not disclose the amount of that instrument.

It was in late 1905 that still another group of mill owners and heads of Pensacola commerce said that the council had tentatively approved their request for OK for the Pensacola and Western Railroad, with added seeking for bay access at the foot of A Street. This line might have a leased access to the trackage of the Pensacola, Mobile and New Orleans, but the spokesman did not say this was a certainty.

All of these plans proceeded in terms of basic engineering and with potential ties to existing routes, to the north and west. There also were periodic reports in the press detailing what was to be, though there was no actual trackage laid anywhere during those reported years.

Then came the panic of 1907!

That Wall Street happening brought a great flight of capital across the country, and the threat was only stopped when the house of J.P. Morgan imported huge gold transfers from Europe. The panic was a disaster for many railroad projects, in the west, and in cities like Pensacola. Locally, the future development of all of those lines thus ended, and was not resumed — ever. Main Street and the bay front docks and warehouses that were in place served on but names such as The Gulf Coast and Southern were gone, forever.


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