The Jupiter & Lake Worth Railway, Florida's "Celestial Railroad"

The Jupiter & Lake Worth Railway is one of the more obscure railways that ran in the state of Florida, and its short length of less than eight miles is the kind of railroad we try to focus on here. 

A member of our Facebook group, Dave Hazzard, wanted to examine further its nickname, the "Celestial Railroad". While we typically don't deal with discussions on nickname etymology among short-line railroads, and many times they're simply a derisive form of the line's initials, this one is a little more interesting.

The following comes from Hazzard. "the naming of the town of Jupiter, Florida had long since come about through a misunderstanding of the way Spanish documents spelled “Hobe”, the name of the indigenous Native tribe. As is usually the case in EspaƱol, ‘J’ replaces ‘H’, making for a spelling of “Jobe”. Evidently a late 1700s mapmaker further mistook the ‘b’ for a ‘v’, resulting in “Jove”. Well, Jove is another name for the Roman god, Jupiter. And that’s how that purportedly happened. (Side note: The more recently named Hobe Sound, several miles north, preserves the anglicized spelling.)

Supply vessels would arrive at Jupiter from Titusville, having navigated interconnected waterways to the North (Indian, Halifax, and Matanzas Rivers, etc.) However, from Jupiter to Lake Worth, 7 ½ miles south, there was only dry land! A rail line seemed perfect to replace the system of oxen drawn freight wagons, known as bull trains, which had shuttled people and goods over the barely passable roads for years.

Jupiter & Lake Worth Railway, 1897. William Henry Jackson photo, Library of Congress.

The J. & L.W. was the southernmost railroad in the continental US when it opened in July of 1889. With Jupiter at its northern terminus, someone had the bright idea of labeling the settlement at its southern terminus, Juno (Jupiter’s consort in Roman mythology).

Perhaps with an eye toward hyping their available holdings, land developers seem to have been behind the naming of two intermediate stops which soon popped up along the route (see map posted below in comments). The southernmost of these was Mars (Jupiter’s son), with the northernmost named Venus (Mars’ lover). Also, a settlement about half a mile upstream on the Loxahatchee River was known for a time as Neptune. So, this whole Roman deity theme had begun to develop.

Unconfirmed sources claim that other parties ran with it. For example, there may have been a saloon called Mercury Tavern near the site where goods were transferred from paddle steamer to terminal at Jupiter. Likewise, an upscale community called Olympus along the former right of way is said to have taken its name from a seaside estate which formerly occupied that location. (Side note: Olympus was actually the home of equivalent gods in Greek mythology. But, whatever.)



1894 Florida Railway Map. With stops such as "Venus", "Mars" and of course "Jupiter", it's not a stretch to see how this small line was dubbed the Celestial Railroad. (Library of Congress)

Having heard of the unique little line, a writer for Harper’s Weekly came to investigate in 1893. Apparently reminded of objects in the solar system named for the same Roman gods, he dubbed it the “Celestial Railroad”.

There’s a good chance the germ of such an idea came from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s allegorical tale of the same name. That particular work had caused quite a stir in literary circles of the 1840s, and would likely have been required reading for late nineteenth century scribes in training.

Regardless, the J. & L.W.’s days were already numbered. Henry Flagler’s Jacksonville, St. Augustine & Indian River Railroad was already planning to extend its line south to Miami. This would completely bypass waterways clear down to Biscayne Bay, rendering the newly minted “Celestial” obsolete.

Additionally, those managing the tiny line ran afoul of Flagler, perhaps fueling a resolve to drive them into insolvency. As was his usual practice Flagler began construction of his Palm Beach resort, a further 8 miles south via the Lake Worth lagoon, before the arrival of his railroad. This initially proved to be a boon for the Celestial, as it was just what he needed to move tons of building materials along the short overland route.

Lore has it that within a few months management increased its hauling fees multiple times, causing Flagler to consider buying the line. Even though his own would arrive within a year! When it finally did, the J. & L.W. went into a steep decline and ended up at public auction soon after.

In the intervening decades much development has occurred along the former ROW, so that very little of it can be found today. Salt air and the sheer passage of time has consumed nearly all other vestiges. An occasional spike turns up, but otherwise all that remains is an historical marker on A1A near Loggerhead Marinelife Center and a number of streets bearing celestial names – Saturn Lane, Venus Drive, Mars Way, Neptune Road, Starlight Lane, and Celestial Way, among others with names that hearken to both Roman and Greek mythology.

All told, the “Celestial Railroad” existed a mere 6 years."

Thanks to Dave Hazzard for providing his thoughts and contributing a large portion of this blog! Please visit our Facebook group to find more of our user's contributions, many of which we would like to share here as well. Thanks as always for reading! 

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