Tuesday, June 8, 2021


I’m riding west on 44A to Wildwood planning to cross 301 and the multiple RR tracks of the railroad yard then take CR 209 north toward home. I’m hoping there’ll be some cars around to change the light to green as from my experience it only changes for traffic and the seasons. And those are good days – bad days are when a mile of railroad cars are being put together and being shunted across the road at three miles per hour!

I’m stopped at the 301 traffic light and looking to my right I see the Wildwood Shopping Center which was built in 1964 and looks like it – having become somewhat tired. Interestingly enough it was built on the site of Lake Malinda a small lake in the middle of town named for Malinda Thompson, the original owner of the 80 acres that a large part of Wildwood was built on. For some reason a Joni Mitchell song about paving Paradise is running through my mind!
                   Loulie Fleece, Ida and Margaret Vining at Lake Malinda circa 1910
The story goes that Wildwood was named when a surveyor overseeing construction of a telegraph line south of Ocala in the 1870’s reported that he was somewhere in the wild woods. That’s the best they can do.
Wildwood was settled in 1877 by Isaac W. Barwick, a 25-year-old entrepreneur who traveled to the area from Georgia and set up a lumber company. Barwick built a few stores, homes, a town square and a post office that has been in operation since 1881. In the beginning, apart from lumber most work was agricultural for local consumption although some cotton was exported via ox cart to Silver Springs and Leesburg.
                                    Steam locomotive at Wildwood depot circa 1915
Life changed on June 1, 1882 when the first train of the Tropical Florida Railroad Company arrived from Ocala pulled by a wood burning engine named "The Cabbage Head". This was the start of Wildwood’s development into a major railroad yard and the growth of an agricultural industry which was now able to export its products including tomatoes, cabbage and water melon to the north.
                                            The Orange Blossom Special
The brick buildings on Main Street offer a glimpse of what the town looked like in its railroad heyday. Especially the art deco station built in 1947 by the Seaboard Air Line Railroad. The station served the Orange Blossom Special and was a major junction where trains were split between continuing to Miami or Tampa. The majority of residents were employed by the railroad, and one of the benefits was that family members could ride free. Irish Wolf, who was born in Wildwood’s first hospital remembers his entire high school graduating class going to the 1964 New York World’s Fair by train.
Oh well – the lights have finally changed so I’m on my way again.

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