Early Florida Railroad House

Jolly Family House | Alachua County Florida | c. 1880s

This quintessential Old Florida home sits on a quiet dirt road in an honest-to-goodness ghost town. Built by James and Esther in the 1880s, they would raise 4 girls here who also attended the school just across the road from their home.

Zola and Cora Jolly, two of Esther and James’ daughters, pictured with their friend Edna c. 1899

In the 1880s, the Florida Southern Railway came to the area, and tracks were laid through here connecting Gainesville to the surrounding Florida markets. According to 1884 records, James was listed as the roadmaster for the railroad that ran just feet from this home and by 1888, 24 trains passed by here each day moving agricultural products. The citrus economy was booming and this town grew with early Florida farming families as a result.

But their successes were short-lived as this farming economy was about to be dealt a massive blow. In 1894, a devastating freeze hit the area that nearly crippled these farmers, but the last blow came the following year when another freeze hit in 1895, wiping out any progress the farmers had made after the previous freeze. Families could no longer support themselves without the income from these crops so they moved further south, to the Orlando area, and planted their citrus crops again in a new area that was less prone to freezes.

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The trains through town became fewer and fewer and eventually, the depot closed and the train tracks were torn up. By 1935, the school these girls attended hosted its last class, and in 1945, the town lost its post office.

As far as this house goes, James, Esther, and their girls moved away around 1900 and sold their home to another local family who stayed in the town. After the train stopped coming through town, they moved the home to the other side of the tracks where it still stands today.

I have stopped to photograph this home on numerous occasions and finally, in 2016, I had the luck of visiting when its owner was there. He was the great-great-grandson of the family that moved the home. During our visit together, he shared that he was born in the front room, as were his mother, siblings, and other kin.

Today, he lives in another town nearby and comes to visit and look after the property regularly. He does maintenance on the windows and roof to keep it intact and regularly maintains the lawn.

The old school that the Jolly girls attended across from their home

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8 thoughts on “Early Florida Railroad House”

  1. so is there anyway to find the location of some of these abandon properties, so that they can be. photographed before industry or apartments come to the area and destroy these beauties?

    1. In order to protect them from vandals and out of respect for private property owners, I am intentionally vague about the locations of these endangered sites.

  2. Kimberly Richardson

    I dearly love reading your posts. I walk through the story just like you are telling it, and imagine I’m a fly on the wall. Thank you for your work

    1. All homes are on private property. If you let me know where and what kinds of history you’re interested in, I can try to make recommendations of public sites.

  3. Have you ever thought about coming to Baker county Fl? We still have some history left in town. Alot of places still preserved through the county. I grew up here and have always enjoyed the history here. We also have a place called heritage Park where we keep history alive with an older home, a church, and parts of towns throughout history. It’s a public place to visit. We also still use most of our older town from early on to this day. Maybe worth checking out.

    1. I’ve been through Baker County a few times…I grew up in Jacksonville and Gainesville. I’ve visited Olustee Battlefield and the old depot but I haven’t spent much time in the northern part of the county. Please let me know if there are any other sites that come to mind for my next visit.

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