Detail of the Dock from the 1884 Bird's Eye View of Cedar Key
Cedar Key is a small town on the Gulf Coast of Florida, in the Big Bend Coast region, where peninsular Florida merges into the panhandle. Cedar Key had a population of just over 700 in 2010. Local industries include fishing, oyster farming and tourism.
A cross-Florida railroad had been envisioned before Florida became a state. In 1853 a company headed by David Levy Yulee, United States Senator from Florida, was chartered to build the Florida Railroad from Fernandina to Tampa, with a branch to Cedar Key. Construction started from Fernandina in 1855. The company decided to build the branch to Cedar Key before completing the line to Tampa. The Florida Railroad reached Cedar Key in 1861. The Civil War, which started a few months later, severely damaged the railroad. The Union Navy raided both Fernandina and Cedar Key, destroying facilities and rolling stock, and eventually tearing up track far inland.
The railroad had financial problems even before the Civil War, with Yulee losing majority control in 1857. With the damage to track, facilities and rolling stock during the Civil War, the railroad faced more troubles. It defaulted on its bonds in 1866, but was bought back at auction by the owners at twenty percent of its previous value. The railroad was reorganized seven times, changing its name each time, between 1872 and 1893, before being absorbed by the Seaboard Air Line Railway in 1903.
Cedar Key, its port, and the railroad were all thriving in the 1880s. Three factories in Cedar Key processed cedar wood from local forests for shipment to New York City, where the wood was used to make pencils. The railroad brought citrus, cotton and winter vegetables from the interior of Florida for shipment to northern states, and carried away fish and oysters. A turning point came in 1886. The railroad, along with other associated railroads in northern Florida, converted from broad gauge (5 feet) to standard gauge (4 feet nine inches), allowing exchange of freight and passenger cars with railroads to the north, The same year the Plant Railroad System reached Tampa, bypassing Cedar Key. Cedar Key gradually lost traffic to Tampa. A hurricane in 1896 destroyed much of the city and the port, and only part of the facilities were rebuilt. By the 1920s the railroad was serving only fish houses. The Seaboard Air Line stopped service to Cedar Key and removed the track in 1932.
"Bird's Eye View of Cedar-Key, Fla. Levy Co. 1884", a lithograph published in 1884. Image from Wikimedia Commons.
The view is looking towards the Northwest.
The railroad dock at Cedar Key was rebuilt a number of times between 1861 and 1932. With one possible exception, the earliest image of the dock that I am aware of is the "Bird's Eye View" of Cedar Key shown above. It was published in 1884, when the port and the city were near the peak of their prosperity. The image at the top of this page is a detail from this "Bird's Eye View." I first saw this image some 45 years ago, and thought that it would be interesting to model the railroad running out onto the dock. I recently returned to the idea of modeling the dock, and started looking for other images.
Sanborn Maps is a company that produced maps of American towns and cities for insurance underwriters. I had known that Sanborn maps show rail lines and the buildings adjacent to them, but did not remember that when I first researched the appearance of the Cedar Key Dock. A fellow model railroader reminded me about the Sanborn maps as I discussed my plans for the model with him. I quickly found that Sanborn had produced a map of Cedar Key in 1884, the same year the "Bird's Eye View" was published. Page 1 of that map is shown below.
The dock was on the south side of Way Key. The East end of the dock is to the right in the above map.
The "Bird's Eye View" and the Sanford map largely match up, but there are some differences in details. The map labels the eastern part of the dock (to the right above) as the "Florida Railway & Navigation Co's. Wharf." The Florida Railway & Navigation Co. was organized in February, 1884, replacing the Florida Transit & Peninsular Railroad. The long structure just to the east (right) of the center of the dock is labeled "Office & Freight Shed." The passenger depot was on Way Key in 1884. The western (left) end of the dock is labeled "Town Improvement Co's Wharf." While David Yulee Levy and his partners lost majority ownership of the Florida Railroad in 1857, they kept ownership of the majority of land on Way Key under the Town Improvement Company. There were two "plank roads" connecting the wharf to Way Key. The buildings clustered along the western plank road belonged to the Town Improvement Company, and included a Fish Warehouse, a General Warehouse Shed, and an Ice House. The structure in the upper right corner of the map, adjacent to the railroad trestle just east of the plank road, is labeled "W. R. Lewis Fish W.ho."