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Railroad Depots of Avon Park

First settled in 1884 by Oliver Martin Crosby, who moved to the region to study the wildlife of the Everglades, the town of Lake Forest was founded in 1886. The name was later changed to Avon Park, when a female settler convinced Crosby that the region was similar to her hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon in England.[1] The city is located in Highlands County in the Central Highlands region of Florida. Crosby built the 32-room Verona Hotel so that potential buyers had a place to stay while being shown property. Built from the standing pine trees where it sat, the hotel began construction in 1887 and was completed in 1889.[2]

Avon Park Atlantic Coast Line Train Station

The Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Depot, shortly after completion in 1912.

Despite Crosby’s efforts to promote his settlement, growth proceeded slowly.[3] Without access to a railroad and only a few sand trails to service the town, it remained isolated throughout the 1890s and early 1900s. When the Atlantic Coast Line (ACL) Railroad brought rail service to the struggling community in 1912, reliable transportation stimulated development. The town was incorporated in 1913, and the population grew from 225 in 1900 to 1,534 in 1929.[4] The train came through town twice per week, primarily carrying freight, but also passengers. This allowed citrus, produce, and naval stores to be shipped directly out of town, rather than relying on a days-long journey to either Fort Meade or Zolfo Springs by wagon.[5]

Avon Park Seaboard Air Line Depot

The Seaboard Air Line Railway Depot, shortly after completion in 1924.

Rail service to the region expanded in 1926, as the Seaboard Air Line (SAL) Railway’s Orange Blossom Special connected Avon Park with various points between West Palm Beach and New York City, augmenting the ACL and bringing an influx of tourists.[6] The Mediterranean Revival-style building is located at 3 North Museum Avenue. With their rail lines and facilities located adjacent to one another, the ACL and SAL were competitors for years. The companies merged on July 1, 1967, and a line rationalization program was implemented shortly thereafter.[7] The ACL mainline would no longer be a through route, and the ACL depot would come down in 1970. The SAL ended passenger service on April 30, 1971, and the building was donated to the Old Settlers Association on January 4, 1979.[8] The building currently houses the Depot Museum and Historical Society of Avon Park. The museum contains exhibits, a research room with a large collection of local period newspapers, and a 1948 California Zephyr railroad dining car, which was purchased by the society in 1986.[9]

Avon Park Depot Museum

Avon Park Depot Museum, present day.

[1] "History of the Discovery of Avon Park," Avon Park Historical Society, accessed December 14, 2015, http://www.avonparkhistoricalsociety.com/index.cfm/p/article/v/1/Avon%20Park.. the%20Beginning..the%20Verona%20Hotel.

[2] Ibid.

[3] United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service, National Registry of Historic Places: Avon Park Historic District, February 22, 1990, sec. 8, pg. 1, accessed December 9, 2015, http://focus.nps.gov/pdfhost/docs/NRHP/Text/90000486.pdf.

[4] Michael Mulligan, Railroad Depots of Central Florida (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2008), 12; United States Department of the Interior.

[5] United States Department of the Interior, National Registry of Historic Places: Avon Park Historic District, 2.

[6] Ibid. 4.

[7] Mulligan, Railroad Depots of Central Florida, 69.

[8] Ibid. 70.

[9] "Visit the Avalon Park Depot Museum," The Depot Museum: A Historical Society of Avon Park, Avon Park Historical Society, accessed December 14, 2015, http://www.avonparkhistoricalsociety.com/index.cfm/p/article/v/3/VISIT%20THE%20AVON%20PARK%20DEPOT%20MUSEUM.