By Steve Winston
The last train pulled out of the Vero Beach train station in 1968. It's now the Vero Beach train museum.
But once, this little wooden building was the lifeblood of this town.
These tracks were built in the late 1800’s. But there was no station here — you had to “whistle stop” the train so it would stop to pick you up — until Florida pioneer Henry Flagler built a stopping place in 1903.
For the next 65 years, this was a terminal not only for passengers, but also for the abundant citrus crops produced nearby.
But by '68, of course, travelers were coming to Florida by automobile and by plane. So the Vero Beach train station, once brimming with life, stood empty until 1983. That’s when a Florida historian named Dr. Eugene Lyons bought the station from the Florida East Coast Railroad – for $1.
Now it’s the home of the Indian River County Historical Society. And, happily, it’s brimming with life once again as the Vero Beach train museum.
In 1987, the Vero Beach train station became the first building in Indian River County to be named to The National Register of Historic Places. And it provides a great peek into life in this county from the late-1800s to the mid-1900s.
“This is a treasure trove for us in Indian River County,” says Ruth Stanbridge, County Historian and a member of the Board of Directors of the Historical Society. “It’s a living record of how those who settled here before us lived, worked, worshipped, fought in our country’s wars, and conquered a tough sub-tropical wilderness before air-conditioning. And it’s this little building that brought people to Vero Beach for so many years.”
Here, visitors can come face-to-face with Florida history and see the day-to-day life of the people who lived here then and used the Vero Beach old train. You can see the waiting rooms, still with signs saying “Whites Only” and “Colored.” You can see the pot-bellied stove used by waiting travelers to keep warm in the winter. And you can see that there was no indoor plumbing until the 30’s — people had to go outside to go to the bathroom.
You can see old paintings by local artists, and even older lithographs. You can pore through World War II training manuals and over photos of the landing craft in which GI’s trained on local beaches for the D-Day invasion, as well as military items such as lanterns and oil cans.
And, you can see drawings of “Vero Man” and “Vero Woman,” prehistoric residents of this area discovered during land-draining excavations in 1915, along with ancient camels, mastodons, and armadillos.
There’s also a huge model train that takes up most of a room, which will evoke wonderful memories for many. A physicians’ bag carried by one of the local doctors, back when they still made house calls. Hundred-year-old advertisements on the walls for Indian River County oranges and grapefruit.
“This is a really interesting place,” said Mark Wittle, a visitor from Newton, Maine. “Those of us from up north tend to think of the big cities — Miami, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale — when we think of Florida. But it’s fascinating to see what life was like back then in a small town.”
When you go…
Vero Beach Train Station
2336 14th Ave., Vero Beach, Florida 32960
Indian River County Historical Society