Today's blog is a bit different.
As you may or may not know I have a passion for history and passion for exploration. Railroad history is really my favorite. Today's blog I will combine my passions for fitness, exploration and history and give you all a good lesson.
Physically today was a tough one.
Hopefully you have a much fun on this ride as I did.
Join me as I retrace a historic route through Lake County, Florida that most who drive along the route have no idea of it's history.
In the late 1800's railroad arrived in Lake County, Florida. Within a fee short years you there was a train stop in every town and in many towns that are long gone.
|Historic Rails lines of Lake County|
In the 1940's tracks started being abandoned as cars became more and more prevalent. A combination of freezes and changes in the economy decimated the citrus industry and slowly but surely almost all the railroads were abandoned. Today the one line remains from Mount Dora and Eustis to Tavares and on to Orlando.
As the years go on all memory of this amazing era are going to be gone forever.
Hopefully today's bike ride and the videos and pictures that I took will help to preserve the rail memories for a just a little while. Hopefully.
The 10 mile track from Leesburg to Tavares was laid in 1885 by the Florida Railway and Navigation Company. In 1982 this track was abandoned and is now forever a memory. Mergers have left the right-always that still exist with CSX.
At the same time the track was also laid from Wildwood to Leesburg. This track also merged with CSX but made it a lot longer. Abandonment's began in 2001 and by 2008 the entire route was abandoned and tracks were pulled up.
Today I explored and chronicled the entire route from Tavares to Wildwood on my bicycle.
Here is the story.
I started in downtown Tavares.
The is a really cool site that is totally free online. It's http://www.historicaerials.com. When you look at the old aerials of Tavares you can clearly see the junction.
I jumped on the Tav-Lee bike trail which goes from downtown Tavares to the outskirts of Leesburg by the mall. This a is "rails to trail" but often times it's hard to tell.
Here is the picture of this intersection taken in the 1950's. You will see the train tracks crossing near where the yellow "stop ahead" sign is.
|I took the above video right behind where the truck is in this picture|
I rode along the Tav-Lee trail towards the Lake Square Mall. Back in the 2000's 441 was widened and the trail was built. To call it a "rail trail" is a little bit of a stretch because the rails were there but there is literally no proof unless you REALLY know what you are looking for.
Past the mall the rail trail ends and the ride was side walk for several miles. This is also where the old rail bed diverted to go behind the present day Leesburg Airport. This route in no longer passable as the runways were lengthened and interrupt the CSX right of way.
Here is where I was when I shot this video. If you look carefully you can see the old CSX right-of-way. It's still there after all these years.
To re-find the old railroad bed I had to go around the airport and up into Sunnyside of Leesburg.
Along the way I rode the 1/4 mile long section of the Tav-Lee Trail that most people don't know exists.
Back when the economy was better the City of Leesburg actually had plans to create a rail trail that connected 441 and downtown Leesburg via Sunnyside and the old railroad grade. This project only got as far as a short section on Sleepy Hollow drive that runs from 441 to Laurel Oaks Apartments. It ends pretty unceremoniously.
I recorded a quick video when I found it the grade near Lake Harris on the back side of Sunnyside. Keep in mind that in the video I said "Sleepy Hollow" a couple of times. What I meant to say was "Sunnyside". Listen, it was HOT out there today. That is my excuse!
Here is the historic home that I mention in the video. It was in a movie in the 1990's called "Away we go".
I've heard stories about this house being haunted. I've also heard stories about a "headless woman" haunting the train tracks in Sunnyside. Unless you know what you are looking for it's hard to spot where the tracks used to be. It took me while to find them. Here is a picture of a crossing that I took today.
I biked on and re-found the old railroad in downtown Leesburg. I also found a pretty cool old relic. How is this still here after 30 years?
It's not hard to see the abandoned railroad history of down town Leesburg. It is literally everywhere. For 100 years you could choose a train in Leesburg to go in 5 different directions. North to Lake Weir / Ocala, west to Wildwood, south-west towards Center Hill, east to Tavares/Mount Dora or north-east to Grand Island/Umatilla.
In Leesburg I found the Fountain Lake trail and took that to 27. After 27 the rails to trails bike path turned into the Tav-Lee Trail.
This is an amazing section of rail trail. There are probably a dozen or more historic building including the old train station and several sections on siding track still in place. This is a very cool little bike ride. The trip from down town Leesburg to the end of the trail is around 5 miles.
End of rail trail video.
The last 5 miles involved a couple of sections on SR 44 which were less than pleasant. The old railroad grade was very recognizable the whole way. The railroad ties are still in place!
FINALLY I arrived at the end of the line tired but happy that I completed my goal. I made it from Tavares toe Wildwood!
The ride back to Tavares was a tough one. I took a more direct route so I think it was around 50 miles today on this HOT Sunday. My Strava app must have thought that I took a helicopter ride back. Not sure this return trip is very accurate!
I hit a wall and had a satisfying bonk the last 5 miles. In the end it was worth it even though I spilled my Post Workout Recovery shake!
For 100 years the railroads were a fixture in Lake County. Now that early is fading away and soon there will be little, if any evidence that it ever existed.
I know that our railroading heritage is important but I also think that the only real way to preserve it is to turn old railroad right-of-ways into rails to trails.
If you want to help you can make a donation to the Rails to Trails Conservatory or you can just get your butt out on the trails that we have an spread the word. I saw NOBODY on the rail trail in Leesburg today. That is sad for a Sunday morning. Get out there and enjoy your trails!
I hope that you enjoyed out little trip through history today.
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Till we meet again!
Rick Copley, Your Best Fitness Coach
"Empowering YOU to be a champion"
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