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City of Lake Wales, Florida Depot Museum
Historic Lake Wales
The Railroad and Lake Wales
The Railroad and Lake Wales

The railroad played an important role in the city's early development.

Situated at a junction of the state's main east-west and north-south rail systems, Lake Wales enjoyed the advantages of easy access to distant markets and accessibility to tourists, land-seekers, and pioneers in quest of a new lifestyle.

Before the arrival of the railroad, Lake Wales could only be reached by sand trails. The extension of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad from Haines City to Lake Wales in 1911 ended the community's isolation and encouraged early settlement. The original Atlantic Coast Line depot, a crude unpainted shack and platform, was the first building constructed in Lake Wales.
It was replaced in 1913 with a large frame structure that stood on Scenic Highway near Park Avenue. The new depot was capable of accommodating both freight and passengers, and, as people and supplies began to flow in, it served as the starting point from which the present town evolved.
Scenic Hwy and Park Ave, c. 1913-14
click to view enlargement

In April 1915, the first train over the Lake Wales section of the east-west Seaboard Air Line tracks came through from Bartow, and early residents celebrated their status as a "two-railroad town." In 1916, a small depot was constructed just east of the intersection of Kissimmee Avenue and Scenic Highway to accommodate rail traffic on this line.

Atlantic Coast Line Depot, 1928click to view enlargement

In 1928, a new passenger depot was constructed several blocks south of the original depot to relieve congestion in the downtown area. A freight room and loading platform were added in 1938.

Passenger service to Lake Wales ceased in 1954. In 1966, Seaboard Air Line and Atlantic Coast Line merged to form the Seaboard Coast Line Railway. In 1974, freight service shifted to the West Lake Wales station, and trains no longer stopped in Lake Wales.
Lake Wales Model Railroad Club

In May of 1975, the Seaboard Coast Line Railroad gave the City of Lake Wales the 1916 Seaboard Airline Freight Depot, and it was moved to the city equipment yard on Sessoms Avenue where it was used as a storage building. In 1987, the Historic Lake Wales Society was formed to serve as a private support group for the Depot Museum. The Historic Society included a small group of railroad enthusiasts who had a vision of building a railroad. About that time, the Ridge Model Railroad Club build a small layout portraying Lake Wales and displayed it in the Depot Museum, sparking even more interest.

In August 1988, Historic Society president Mimi Hardman heard about an HO scale layout that was for sale at Marco Island. The layout included over 900 feet of track, 100 buildings, ski lifts and working mines, and measured 9 feet by 30 feet. After beginning negotiations to purchase the layout, steps were taken to found a model railroad club.

On May 1, 1989, a constitution and by-laws were signed to officially form the Lake Wales Model Railroad Club. Nine days later, the purchased layout arrived at the Depot Museum and its reconstruction became the primary focus of the Railroad Club.

Members restore the 1916 SAL Depot In 1994, the Historic Lake Wales Society decided to move the 1916 SAL Freight Depot to the newly established CSX Historic Corridor and restore it to its original architectural integrity. The new focus of the Railroad Club became the restoration of the freight depot and establishment of a small railroad museum within it. In late 1995, the restoration was completed, and the 1916 SAL Freight Depot was dedicated on Pioneer Day of that same year.

At the beginning of 1996, the original layout was donated and construction began on the HO layout. Later that year, work began on the N and G scale layouts. Since then, the Railroad Club has continued to serve the Depot Museum by providing assistance with the restoration of the museum's three vintage railroad cars as well as providing educational tours and programs for area school, scout and community groups.

For more information or to become a member of the Lake Wales Model Railroad Club, contact the Depot.

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