South Bay and South Bay Railroad Cottage: A Piece of Belle Glade History

Close to Lake Okeechobee is a city full of history, Belle Glade, Florida. A piece of that history includes South Bay and the South Bay Railroad Cottage. South Bay was founded in 1910 and was one of several early farming communities founded close to the lake and along canals to take advantage of the fertile soil reclaimed from the Everglades. In this town, roads were rough and canals had to be crossed by ferry. The arrival of the Florida East Coast (FEC) Railroad at Canal Point and Pahokee in 1925 would change that. The railroad reached Belle Glade and then South Bay in 1926. In 1928, at Lake Harbor, the Florida East Coast Railroad met the Atlantic Coast Line coming down from Clewiston.

Two structures were built in South Bay by the FEC Railroad when it reached the town in 1926, a depot and a railroad worker’s cottage. The cottage was built 1.5 stories in height with 2 dormers, a brick chimney in the center ridge of the unusually high-pitched, pyramid-shingled roof, 2 porches (front and rear) with decorative porch brackets and exposed rafters on the front porch, and wood double-hung sash 6/6 windows.

A couple of years later, tragedy struck. Three or four hundred people were living in South Bay, mostly along the lake and the canal, when the great hurricane of 1928 caused Lake Okeechobee to flood its banks. Only five buildings were left intact after the storm in South Bay, including the FEC Railroad’s section worker’s cottage.

While South Bay recovered with help from the New Deal, the Herbert Hoover Dike was constructed around the lake in 1937. Road transportation was brought up to date in 1941 with the opening of the Thomas E. Will Memorial Highway, which paralleled the North New River Canal from South Bay to Fort Lauderdale. South Bay was incorporated as the Town of South Bay in 1945 and again as the City of South Bay in 1963.

In the wake of the 1964 railroad strikes, the depot was abandoned and demolished. The cottage was abandoned sometime after and eventually became a private home. The last known owners, Woody and Ila O’Neal, sold the cottage to the City of South Bay in January 2000.

From 2000 through 2005, the City of South Bay relocated the cottage, from its original location, N.W. 4th Ave, to its present location in South Bay RV Park and rehabilitated the cottage for the purpose of preservation. It was restored to its original appearance, including some existing materials. As part of the restoration efforts, new siding was milled and installed to resemble original siding, and porch decking was replaced to resemble original material. The floor is the original Dade County pine, the color of the building, “Flagler Yellow” is the original color, windows are original and the asphalt shingles on the roof are original material used on the building. In 2009, the City of South Bay ceded ownership of the cottage to Palm Beach County.

The railroad worker’s cottage is an important piece of local history, for it is a surviving example of a style or type (of the FEC Railroad section foreman’s residence) and it is one of only two structures left in South Bay that pre-date the 1928 hurricane.

South Bay RV Park includes a campground, community building and amenities such as a bicycle path, nature trail, walking path, boat launching ramps, canoe/kayak access, fishing, and playgrounds. For more information, visit https://discover.pbcgov.org/parks/Locations/South-Bay-RV.aspx.

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