The history of the Seaboard Air Line Railroad is quite complicated. The rail service began on March 8, 1832, as the Portsmouth and Roanoke Railroad (“P&R”) having been chartered by the legislatures of Virginia and North Carolina. The service was to go from Portsmouth, Virginia to, the Roanoke River port of Weldon, North Carolina.
Initially, the service began as a horse-drawn operation. On September 4, 1834, the line began its first locomotive-pulled service. The train rain twice daily on a 17 mile stretch from Portsmouth to Suffolk, Virginia.
The route to Weldon was completed in June 1837. At this point, the tracks were connected with the Wilmington and Raleigh Road, later to become the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad. Due to financial difficulties in 1846, the P&R was reorganized as the Seaboard and Roanoke Railroad (“SAL”).
At the same time, the P&R line was being constructed, the Raleigh and Gaston Railroad (“R&G”) was under construction and began service on March 21, 1840. After the Civil War, it was known as the Inland Air-Line Route. Then in 1853, the two routes connected and offered travelers services on the 176-mile route from Portsmouth to Raleigh.
Another line in the area was the Raleigh & Augusta Air-Line Railroad. The route was started in 1855, but was riddled with delays and setbacks and not operational until 1871 when it was acquired by the R&G.
The 19th Century
Hauling passengers and valuable cargos of cotton, tobacco, and produce was prosperous in the 1850s for the railroads but was interrupted by the Civil War. Bridges and tracks of the railroad were destroyed by both the Union and Confederate troops.
After the war, prosperity returned, and the Seaboard line showed a profit during the panic of 1873 and paid its stockholders an annual dividend of eight percent for years. When the Raleigh and Gaston Railroad and its subsidiaries fell on hard times in 1873, Seaboard’s president, John M. Robinson, acquired financial control and became the president of all three railroads in 1875.
Early 20th Century
As railways were built throughout the south, one by one, they were being acquired by Seaboard, and on April 14, 1900, the Seaboard Air Line Railway was incorporate and consisted of 19 railroads.
On June 3, 1900, service began from New York to Tampa. The routes and trains used were the Pennsylvania Railroad from New York to Washington, D. C.; the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad from Washington to Richmond; and finally, the Seaboard from Richmond to Tampa. This arrangement lasted until the creation of Amtrak in 1971.
Seaboard’s All Florida Railway
A subsidiary of the Seaboard Air Line Railroad, due to the land boom, the SAL saw two major extensions of the system in the early 1920s to southern Florida on each coast. One line extended from West Palm Beach to Miami, and later on to Homestead; the other went from Fort Ogden south to Fort Myers and on to Naples.
Today, only the east coast route is in use and hosts the Tri-Rail and Amtrak for South Florida. The west coast route was removed in 1952, and few of the depots remain.
The Homestead Station
Seaboard stations in South Florida were designed by Gustav Adam Maass, Jr. of the first Harvey & Clark. The firm worked in the Mediterranean Revival style; they also designed public buildings and homes, many of which are designated as historic landmarks.
The Homestead station was constructed in 1927 and was identical to the Delray Beach station, the original design. Except like the Naples and Hialeah stations, the construction consisted of Corinthian arches, instead of plain stucco arches.