Thanks to the two Henrys, Plant and Flagler, the state of Florida was transformed into a magical vacation wonderland with fairy-tale-like surroundings.
Rail service grew and improved throughout the 1880s. Henry Bradley Plant brought steamships and rail lines to Tampa and, in 1884, the Western Railway Company celebrated the completion of a line from Savannah to Gainesville with a dinner of roast beef, mutton, corned beef, ham, veal, venison, dried beef, wild turkey, chicken, duck, shrimp, clams, lobsters, lettuce, cucumbers, Bermuda onions, radishes, celery and tomatoes. Railroad construction continued as Henry Flagler completed the East Coast Railway to the Florida Keys.
Cedar Key was the Gulf terminus of the Florida Transit Railway, traveling from Fernandina in northeast Florida. Hundreds of miles of rail had been built to replace the crude roads and trails, and steam ship routes linked up with the railroads for international travel from Florida. Later, air-rail service would be offered, for a short time, from New York to Miami via trains and on to points in the Caribbean from there. By the end of the nineteenth century, a modern Florida was emerging, and the Gilded Age helped put Florida on the map as the “American Riviera.” These were exciting times in the transportation industry as Anthony “Tony” Jannus made the first commercial flight in the world from Saint Petersburg to Tampa on January 1, 1914.
Spurred by detailed descriptions of Florida by writers like Barbour and Townshend, more people made their way to the state. Pensacola, Jacksonville, Tampa and Key West were important harbor cities, and the golden age of steamers continued until the railroad made its way into the interior and southern part of the state. The coastline and interior grew as a result of the improved transportation system. Steamboat tours were trendy with tourists, and dining onboard offered a variety of seafood as well as wines and desserts. Palatka was a popular stop for the steamboat and railway lines crossing the state. The steamboat Madison, on the Suwannee, served as a country store as well as a mode of transportation, bringing beef, chickens, eggs, hogs and honey to the people of the area. The lower deck of these boats held the cargo and mail, while the upper deck was reserved for passengers.