The rich history of Lakeland’s railroad industry

Lakeland rail yard circa 1890

Lakeland resident M. Theodore Anderson + at the Lakeland rail yard circa 1890. | Photograph via Florida Memory

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You may have heard about Lakeland’s original rival town, Acton, + the mysterious fire that claimed its rail depot, but did you know that shortly after that, Lakeland became a railroad hotspot in central FL?

By the 1890s, just 5 years after the town’s incorporation, the Lakeland Subdivision saw around 25 trains passing through the depot per day. While other towns popped up and faded with the rising + setting sun, Lakeland’s active rail yards kept it on the map.

By 1893, the city of Lakeland’s Munn Park area + surrounding rail yards had become a well-known + integral area for Florida’s shipping industry.

Photo of Kentucky Ave from the 1880s

Look familiar? That’s Kentucky Ave. seen from the railroad back in the 1880s. | Photo via Florida Memory

One key component of this vibrant industry was the Winston + Bone Valley Railroad, which was, between 1910-1950, responsible for roughly 50% of the phosphate tonnage shipped in Florida.

While our railroad culture has dwindled over the years, the railroad industry is a core component of Lakeland’s history. Since its induction, the Lakeland Subdivision was taken over by the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad in 1902, which eventually merged with CSX Transportation in 1986.

If you’re looking to travel by train, you have limited opportunities to ride the rails each day. Lakeland’s Amtrak station, which reduced the frequency of their service to Lakeland back in 2020, is the only commercial train station in the city.

Know a little-known Lakeland locomotive fact? We’d love for you to share it with us.

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