Florida Finds: David Browning Railroad Museum

The David Browning Railroad Museum is located in Palatka.
The David Browning Railroad Museum is located in Palatka.
Photo by Ronnie Lovler

All aboard. If you are interested in trains and railroads, Palatka might be an excellent place to stop. It has the only functioning Amtrak rail station in North Central Florida outside of Jacksonville and is also home to the David Browning Railroad Museum, housed in Amtrak’s Palatka stop.

The historic train station, built in 1908, is over 100 years old. It is a functioning stop for Amtrak’s Silver Service line and houses the museum and the Palatka Railroad Preservation Society.

The museum takes its name from David Browning, the last railroad agent to work at the depot.

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What catches your eye are the two railroad crossing signs displayed outside the building and an old railroad car set back from the parking lot. When we stepped into the building, it felt like you might have been waiting for a train decades ago.

It’s worth a visit. The waiting room area contains old train and communication artifacts and other memorabilia. The collection includes documents, photographs, maps, signs and other items donated or loaned to the museum.

Palatka's David Browning Railroad Museum is part of Amtrak's stop.
Photo by Ronnie Lovler Palatka’s David Browning Railroad Museum is part of Amtrak’s stop.

Two wooden benches look just like the ones travelers might have sat on years ago while waiting for their train to arrive. They are still used by travelers who grab the train in Palatka today. The station has been an Amtrak passenger train stop since 1979.

There is such an air of authenticity of days past that the historic Atlantic Coast Line (ACL) Union Depot, as the structure is also known, is one of the oldest commercial places in Palatka still in use. It was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.

The Palatka Railroad Preservation Society is behind Palatka’s salute to railroading and that portion of the depot building where the museum holds sway. Palatka was once an authentic railroad town, and the society ensures we remember that.

In its brochure, the society says it is committed to “the preservation and perpetuation of the rail heritage of Palatka and surrounding communities from the first railways in the 1880s to the present time.  

The station was first built for the ACL railway. It was a depot for the ACL’s Jacksonville-Tampa-Sarasota mainline, the Florida Southern Railway, and the Georgia Southern and Florida Railways. It was also a stop along the route served by ACL’s West Coast Champion between New York City and Sarasota. 

The David Browning Railroad Museum in Palatka is also the home to the Palatka Railroad Preservation Society.
Photo by Ronnie Lovler The David Browning Railroad Museum in Palatka is also the home to the Palatka Railroad Preservation Society.

There is also a 950s-era railroad semaphore signaling device on display. In its time, it governed train movements, such as designating meeting points for opposing trains or giving reduced-speed orders.

Palatka Union Station was an ACL train order office. But when centralized traffic control and radio communications began governing rail traffic, train order offices were no longer needed, and semaphore signals were discontinued.

Most rail passenger service in the United States was transferred to Amtrak in 1971, but the Palatka stop was discontinued. Five years later, Amtrak opted to reinstate the stop on a provisional basis but made it a permanent stop in 1979.

The society maintains the museum and operates two model railroads housed in the train station. One is a historical representation of Palatka in the steam/diesel transition era. The second is RAILRODEO, formerly known as “The World’s Largest Mobile Scale Model Railroad.”

The museum area in the waiting room is open to the public at no cost Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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