Untold Florida: Why Is North Main Street, North 8th Avenue Intersection So Crooked?

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An old postcard shows the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad going through West Main Street, which is now referred to as North Main Street. (Courtesy of the Matheson History Museum)

This story is part of Untold Florida: Your Neighborhood, Your Story, a WUFT News series built from your questions. Cynthia from Gainesville asked why Main Street is so crooked where it intersects with North 8th Avenue.

The intersection of North Main Street and North 8th Avenue is rare in its crooked appearance. For a city with mostly straight, numerical roads, the intersection provides some confusion for Gainesville drivers.

The curved appearance is not due to any architectural blunder or an oddly-placed building. Rather, the intersection is a reflection of the history of railroads in Gainesville.

In March of 1879, the Gainesville, Ocala and Charlotte Harbor Railroad Co. was incorporated with the vision of building a railroad that went from Lake City to Charlotte Harbor in Southwest Florida, according to The Story of Florida Railroads Bulletin No. 86.  The construction began in 1881 and finished in 1884 under a new name––The Florida Southern Railway Co. The tracks went directly through what was then called West Main Street, now North Main Street.

The Florida Southern Railway went through another name change before being acquired by the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad in 1903, according to Florida’s Railroads.

On a 1913 map made by the Sanborn Map Co., the tracks run straight through most of the town but take a divot around East and West Boundary Avenue, now referred to as Northwest and Northeast 8th Avenue. There are no unique markings at the intersection and no train station.

The same can be seen on the later 1950 version of the Sanborn-made map, which went through many edits throughout the ‘60s. What can be observed on the map is a gas station on the intersection called the Pure Oil Co., a space now occupied by U-Haul Moving and Storage at 802 N. Main Street.

The 1926 Gainesville City Directory shows there had been gas stations there in the past, including the Standard Oil Co. filling station, but no structure made the street crooked.

The intersection is curved because the railroad tracks there were curved as well.

Those railroad tracks remained on North Main Street for years, and it was common for the train to make stops behind The White House Hotel, which is now a SunTrust building at 411 N. Main Street.

In 1948, edged out by the ever-growing population of Gainesville, the train tracks saw their time on Main Street come to an end.

“The train went down Main Street up until about the 1940s,” Kaitlyn Hof-Mahoney, the curator of collections at the Matheson History Museum, said. “It would be going at a very slow speed, and the conductor would be running out in front of it with a flag to make sure everyone was cleared out of the way. By the 1940s, there was just too much traffic on Main Street, and the train needed to go somewhere else.”

The Atlantic Coast Line Railroad was removed from Main Street, and the tracks from a few blocks over on Fifth Street, which the Atlantic Coast Line also owned, were combined with the tracks just north of where the Main Street tracks had ended, according to the 1950 Sanborn Map.

The curved appearance of the intersection remained and has been a curious turn for Gainesville drivers ever since.

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About Lawren Simmons

Lawren is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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