Along the route of Florida’s Bellamy Road lay a plantation village named Bellamy Station, which is now called Waldo, one of Alachua County’s oldest towns founded in 1820. Once a thriving railroad center, Waldo was named for Dr. Benjamin Waldo of Ocala, a physician and friend of the railroad’s founder. The town’s train depot throughout history saw civil war troops, new settlers looking for good soil and a mild climate, as well as tourists looking for “a winter playground”, all which could be found in beautiful Waldo.
Waldo in its glory days once boasted several resort hotels, two theaters and an opera house. The railroad brought people from all around the country to a land that was excellent for hunting, fishing and boating. Land investors built homes and helped Waldo’s population to become prosperous and diversified. The town had a number of thriving businesses: an ice factory and cold storage plant, a grist mill, a cotton gin, a saw mill, a wagon factory, and a broom manufacturer. It was even the home of El Toney cigar factory, a large employer of the community during its operation. Some of the original buildings remain today.
A series of disastrous freezes in 1899 laid havoc on Waldo’s horticultural assets of citrus groves and other crops developed by Waldo’s farmers and growers. Waldo was once a major shipping point for agricultural products with the construction of the Santa Fe Canal that connected Waldo to Melrose through Lake Alto and Lake Santa Fe. The canal helped carry oranges as well as other fruits, vegetables, turpentine and passengers to and from Waldo to Melrose. When two inches of snow covered the ground and the freezing temperatures lasted for four straight days, Waldo’s reputation for a mild climate for farming and leisure was soon lost.
With the depression which began in Florida in the late 1920’s and the decision to move Railroad operations out of town, Waldo had a dwindling number of people who could support themselves or the town. Many homes and businesses were abandoned and fell into disrepair. With some economic growth in the 1940’s revived the town after the building of an Army Training base in nearby Starke, Waldo was able to recover from the hard times which came before.
Today the old red caboose on display in the city park holds the key to Waldo’s past. It is the symbol of the town’s rich history and serves as a reminder to its community that Waldo remains a great place to live and to raise a family. Waldo offers new comers the charm of a small town with the benefit of living in Alachua County with its numerous resources and advantages. The heritage of Waldo can now be found in its residents, where the spirit of the railroad and all the good things that came with it, is not forgotten. For a History summary click here.
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