On the bank of the Withlacoochee River a little north of the I-75 overpass on Croom-Rital Road are the remains of a town. The town was originally known as Pemberton Ferry but was later renamed Croom when the railroad was built across the river. The area where the town was located is now part of the more than 20,000 acre Croom Tract of the Withlacoochee State Forest.
A pillar from an old iron railroad bridge, some foundations, the Thomas House, a brick vat, and several small cemeteries is what is said to remain of the town. You can reach the ghost town with a hike from either Hog Island or the Silver Lake Recreation Area.
In 1884 Pemberton Ferry was added as a stop on the Florida Southern Railroad, which was formerly the Gainesville Ocala Charlotte Harbor Railway. Brooksville was not chosen as a stop for the railroad, but local residents managed to raise $20,000 via bonds for a branch track. The Florida southern railroad built the branch to Brooksville and by 1885 trains were traveling from Pemberton Ferry to Brooksville. The historic Train Depot in downtown Brooksville was built as part of this project and finished in 1885.
The railroad continued to build south with Henry Plant's South Florida Railroad laying the track from Pemberton Ferry to Lakeland and Bartow. Plant also built the final leg from Bartow to Arcadia and Trabue (renamed Punta Gorda). Colonel Isaac Trabue provided the railroad land for right of way. A 4,200 foot dock was constructed into Charlotte Harbor allowing the train to meet the steamboats.
Several small steamers traveled along the the Withlacoochee River between Pemberton Ferry and Lake Panasoffkee. A river improvement project was undertaken in order for the steamers to be able to navigate the river. It was once badly obstructed, so it could not be used for transporting vessels. These obstructions were limestone ledges, downed trees, sandbars, and tree branches. The river improvement project’s goal was to allow vessels that drew up to two feet of water to navigate the river for half the year. The project was successful and by 1891 there were several small steamers that traveled between Pemberton Ferry and Lake Panasoffkee.
The town of Croom had lost a portion of its population with the start of World War I. Phosphate mining was a major industry and the main consumer of phosphates was Germany. The war stopped trade with Germany. Many of the former phosphate miners had to move to find new work. There are reports of flu decimating the town. Then the area was hit again by the great depression as more people moved to to find work. The final nail in coffin of Croom was Franklin Delano Roosevelt's US Land Resettlement Administration (RA) of the New Deal, whose goal was to resettle "struggling urban and rural families to communities planned by the federal government.” The RA decided to turn the area into a national forest, so they resettled the people who were still living in Croom and other nearby towns. Eventually, the land was turned over to the state of Florida via lease-purchase agreement in 1958 and that is why it is now the Withlacoochee State Forest.
Hiking the area which was once Pemberton Ferry is a nice way to explore some local history.