A piece of railroad history

Jody Conrad | Special to the Press Gazette

Among the many things this community has to offer along the lines of museums, parks, and historical preservation efforts, the West Florida Railroad Museum is a gem. 

Located at 5003 Henry Street, the railroad museum preserves a piece of history that up and coming generations may be unfamiliar with: trains.

The West Florida Railroad Museum is located at 5003 Henry Street in Milton.

Roughly 150 years ago, the Florida Panhandle was a sparsely populated and heavily forested area. In 1881, the Pensacola and Atlantic Railroad, which was incorporated into the Louisville and Nashville system (L & N), connected Pensacola with Jacksonville. Only two panhandle towns, Milton and Marianna, warranted depots at the time.

Passenger rail service peaked in the 1920s with six daily trains making stops in Milton. Unfortunately for the new rail system, the 1920s also saw the rise of automobiles, and shortly thereafter, airplanes. Four L & N trains survived until 1967, and in 1973 the Milton depot officially closed.

Volunteers Doug Robinson and Peggy Humbert pose for a photo outside the West Florida Railroad Museum.

CSX currently operates on the tracks.

Shortly thereafter, the Santa Rosa Historical Society purchased and restored the depot. The museum opened in its present location in 1989.

The museum is not just photos and written descriptions of a bygone era. It boasts several original buildings, multiple rail cars, and a “garden railroad.”

The L & N dining car is one of several antique train cars on display at the West Florida Railroad Museum.

Doug Robinson is a volunteer at the museum. While he says he has never been on a train, “I love learning about them and sharing that love with others.”

The train cars that can be seen at the museum include an L & N dining car, a former Pullman sleeper car, which was renovated into an L & N baggage dormitory car, an L & N caboose, a Frisco caboose, an L & N box car, and an L & N flat car.

The museum property also boasts the Escambia Bay bridge tender’s house, which currently is the headquarters for the Emerald Coast Garden Railway Club. The grounds include an impressive garden railroad, and club members are on hand the share their enthusiasm.

Garden Railroad enthusiasts Gordy Humbert and Jack Grill display their handiwork.

Peggy Humbert is both a volunteer and a board member of the Museum. She said that the museum will soon “launch a major fundraising campaign to restore several of their railcars to their former glory.”

The Railroad Museum is open Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.. There is no admission fee.