History of the Tallahassee-St. Marks Railroad

Historic black and white depiction of the historic st. marks railroad station.

In 1831, the Tallahassee Railroad Company received the first Congressional Land Grant ever given to a railroad. 

The Tallahassee Railroad (TRR) is Florida’s oldest incorporated railroad company. The company formed in 1834 to build a 22-mile line from the new state capitol of Tallahassee to St. Marks along the banks of the St. Marks River. In 1837 the first trains began traversing along the railway. The purpose behind the TRR was the same as most other early railroads established at that time, moving goods to market as quickly as possible, often in conjunction with water transportation. In this case, local farmers and business owners wanted to ship cotton. 

After operations began, approximately 30,000 bales of cotton were moved on the railroad by 1837.  

In 1839 with the promise of even more productivity, the rail line was extended to Port Leon with the construction of a bridge over the St. Marks River. A hurricane demolished the section of the rail leading to Port Leon in in 1843, and St. Marks became the new southern terminus of the railroad. 

In 1856, the wooden rails were replaced by steel rails and the mule-drawn carriages were replaced by locomotives. Because it lay near the Gulf of Mexico, the now updated railroad helped the Confederacy in moving troops and supplies to other strategic points, which was key in helping win the Battle of Natural Bridge in March 1865. 

In 1983, the railroad stopped operating and a year later the Florida Department of Transportation purchased 16 miles of the corridor and Florida’s first “Rails to Trails” project began. This became the rail-trail that you can still enjoy today.