Yulee Days celebration stretches coast to coast this year
Published: Wednesday, June 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, May 31, 2005 at 10:56 p.m.
To attract the most visitors, festival coordinators usually look for a weekend void of other events. Not so for Yulee Railroad Days.
Local historian and Yulee Days coordinator Phil Denton is not only inviting residents across Florida, he also has invited towns and cities to participate in this weekend's annual Yulee Railroad Days celebration.
"We anticipate our day to be a national event someday. We want it to grow," says Denton, who for 10 years has coordinated Yulee Days as an event that consumed just the town of Archer.
Yulee Days for 2005 will include events stretching from Cedar Key to Fernandina Beach, being put on by different organizers with the ultimate goal of extending Yulee Days into an annual linear festival the stretches the same 155 miles that U.S. Sen. David Levy Yulee's Florida Railroad meandered across North Florida 150 years ago.
The expansion of Yulee Days actually began two years ago when Denton started reaching to towns and cities outside Archer.
"It's a whole different philosophy," he says. "We hope people clump together and do more . it's an opportunity and we want everybody to get on."
Lisa Auel, executive director of the Matheson Museum, says the museum will display two model-train layouts. Auel says she is thrilled that the weekend brings awareness of what the railroad really means to the area and how it has impacted the past. The exhibit will display today through Sunday.
"It's much bigger than last year," Auel says of the Yulee Days celebration. "The concept is the most intriguing . we can actually pull off a celebration that goes from one end of the state to the other."
Even with the excitement about the event's growth, Denton noted that Yulee Days is still about appreciating North Florda's railroad heritage.
"We want to recognize it was the beginning," Denton says.
Noting that cyclists will ride the century-and-half-old route once used by a booming railroad path - the Cross-Florida Bike Ride runs Saturday and Sunday from Cedar Key on the Gulf to Fernandina on the Atlantic - Denton hopes that Yulee Days makes clear the railroad's major role in the early success of places such as Gainesville and schools such as the University of Florida.
Denton also says he wants people to recognize there were 400 slaves working for more than eight years to build this statewide railroad.
Celebrating not only the accomplishments of David Levy Yulee, first U.S. senator from Florida and the creator of the Florida Railroad, the weekend also will recognize the 100th anniversary of the Maddox Foundry, one of North Florida's longest-running industrial plants, located in Archer.
Paula DeLaney, a Gainesville city commissioner and a great-granddaughter of the foundry's founder, Hitup Maddox, says her great-grandfather came on a freight train to Alachua County with nothing and started the foundry in 1905.
"There aren't too many things that are 100 years old in Florida," she boasts.
DeLaney says the foundry, which survived through difficult times such as the Depression, wars and recessions, has come a long way, and she will be proud to celebrate over the weekend.
Family and workers will host an open house on Saturday.
Another addition to the festival this year will be nautical events that will take place Saturday near Melrose, on Lake Santa Fe.
The cross-state bike ride will begin at 8 a.m. Saturday when bikers saddle up to begin their two-day bike ride in Cedar Key. They'll conclude Sunday on the Atlantic coast, at Fernandina Beach. The 155-mile ride will pass through 12 towns and cities that can all attribute the railroad to their founding.
Simultaneously, 18 towns and cities across the state will be hosting individual celebrations such as flea markets, entertainment, museum tours, food vendors and antique car shows.
"I know there are not any other shore-to-shore events in Florida," Denton says.
For more information about what is taking place in your area, visit www.yulee railroaddays.org.
About the railroad
The Florida Railroad, built before the Civil War to provide a coast-to-coast rail shipping route, stretched 155 miles from Fernandina on the Atlantic to Cedar Key on the Gulf. The line opened up the vast, sparsely settled interior Florida for development. Train stations popped up along the tracks, and towns began to flourish around them. By the 1880s, the landscape was etched with iron rails. Tourists arrived in style to enjoy Florida's balmy breezes, and growers sent carloads of oranges and fresh produce to northern markets. The timber, turpentine, and phosphate industries depended on the railroads to haul their products as well.
U.S. Sen. David Levy Yulee (1810--1886) was the driving force behind the Florida Railroad, the state's first cross-state line. Yulee was the visionary who unleashed the "iron dragon" and sent it rumbling through the swamps and pine forests from the Atlantic to the Gulf. Yulee's railroad opened up the center of the state and planted new towns in the wilderness. The first person of Jewish descent to serve in the U.S. Congress, Yulee had a profound impact on the growth and development of Alachua County and North Central Florida.
at a glance
The three-day event features festivities in several towns and cities in North Florida. For more information, go online to www.yulee days.org. Here's a sampling of those events:
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