Group Title: Historic St. Augustine: Bridge of Lions
Title: Notes on the Historical Significance of the Bridge of Lions
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 Material Information
Title: Notes on the Historical Significance of the Bridge of Lions
Series Title: Historic St. Augustine: Bridge of Lions
Physical Description: Research notes
Language: English
Creator: Graham, Thomas
Publication Date: 1981
Physical Location:
Box: 8
Divider: Bridge of Lions
Folder: Bridge of Lions
Subject: Saint Augustine (Fla.)
Bridge of Lions (Saint Augustine, Fla.)
Spatial Coverage: North America -- United States of America -- Florida -- Saint Johns -- Saint Augustine
Coordinates: 29.892796 x -81.310269
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00095512
Volume ID: VID00004
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.

Full Text




Prepared by

Thomas Graham

for the

Historic St. Augustine Preservation Board

August, 1981

The first regularly scheduled transportation from

St. Augustine to Anastasia Island was a ferry operated by

the St. Augustine and South Beach Railway. This ferry ran

from a dock at King Street to a landing near the present-day

eastern end of the Bridge of Lions. The purpose of the ferry

was to connect passengers with the wooden tramway which the

company had constructed atop a causeway running across the mud

flats of the island's north shore to the higher ground around

the lighthouse.1 Opened in about 1885 and first operating with

horse-drawn cars, the railroad was later improved by the

addition or iron rails and a steam engine.

In 1895 the railway constructed a flat, wooden bridge

with a swing span from the foot of King Street to a point

on the island just south of the present bridge. This was a

toll bridge, with carriages to convey passengers across the

bridge to meet the train. By 1903 the railway company was in

receivership and the bridge had been allowed to fall into a

dilapidated condition. After major repairs in 1904 the bridge

and railway passed into the hands of the St. Johns Light and

Power Company, which ran an electric trolly line across the

bridge to the lighthouse and down to South Beach.2 The first

auto traffic across the bridge was permitted after the 1904



Prompted by the increase in automobile traffic during

the next decade, the county commission took preliminary

steps to secure a new bridge in 1917. W. J. Krome, builder

of Henry Flagler's railroad bridges to Key West, discussed

the project with the commissioners, and city engineer C. E.

Henderson was asked to draw up specifications for a new bridge.

The location of the new bridge was to be South Street, a site

favored by those who wanted to improve the bayfront's appearance

by removing the old bridge, which had become an eyesore.

A bridge at South Street was also felt to be less expensive

since shoals extended from town almost to the channel. Nothing

came from this effort.3

Two years later in the summer of 1919 the subject of

a new bridge came up again as the city looked to the future

following the end of World War I. A new, toll-free bridge

to the island's beaches was seen as a necessary step in making

St. Augustine a summer resort. A. W. Corbett was appointed

to head a committee to consider creation of a special tax

district to finance the bridge. However, it was found that

a new bridge world be so expensive that even with the whole

county's tax revenues it would be costly. Purchase of the

existing bridge by the county was recommended, and in 1924

the county acquired the bridge.

Efforts which would ultimately lead to construction

of the Bridge of Lions began in 1923. The St. Augustine Record

newspaper made itself the champion of a new bridge. Civic

interest was evidenced in a resolution by the local Kiwanis

Club favoring a new bridge and other improvements such as

a new water system which would help to make St. Augustine a

modern city in tune with Florida's 1920's prosperity. City

manager Eugene Masters was a keen supporter of the new bridge,

and the city government appointed a bridge study committee

headed by another strong bridge advocate H. N. Rodenbaugh,

Vice President and General Manager of the Florida East Coast


The bridge concept which emerged in the winter and

spring of 1924 was radically different from the thinking

which had gone before. Prior efforts had contemplated a modest,

inexpensive bridge not much different from the bridge which

would be replaced, but the new idea was of a monumental structure

enhancing the beauty of the bayfront and serving as a grand

entrance to Anastasia Island, which was envisioned as developing

into a new Miami Beach. The St. Augustine Record editorialized:

"If the people of St. Augustine pledge themselves at the polls

to build a permanent bridge across the Bay to the Island,

they will have taken the biggest forward step for this community

since Henry M. Flagler, millionaire developer, built his great

hotels here."6

Early in 1924 the city advertised for bids for an

engineering study, and on April 28 it was awarded to the large
Baltimore firm of J. E. Greiner Company. Although Greiner

was not the low bidder on the project, the city commissioners

selected his firm because of its good reputation. By the

summer the city commission had accepted Greiner's proposal

to build a concrete and steel bridge at the plaza, and in

October the city authorized the firm to begin final plans

for the bridge.7

Among the supporters of the new bridge was Dr. Andrew

Anderson, one of the town's oldest and most noted benefactors.
Dr. Anderson suggested that the bridge's towers be designed

to match the turrets of the Castillo de San Marcos, but he

found the Mediterranean style proposed by Greiner acceptable

since it harmonized with the city's architecture. In a grand

gesture of endorsement, Dr. Anderson commissioned the sculpting

of two monumental lions modeled on those which he had seen

in the Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence. The lions would be completed

by F. Romanelli of Florence just in time to be erected at the

west entrance to the bridge at its completion. Dr. Anderson's
recommendation that the new bridge be called the Bridge of
Lions would eventually win popular acceptance over the official

name Matanzas River Bridge.8

The proposed bridge had its critics. One point in
question was the location. The original 1895 bridge had been

opposed by some because it was considered a detriment to the
waterfront along the seawall, the town's scenic promenade.
Then and again in 1917 and 1924 it was argued that the city's

interests would be better served by a bridge originating

someplace on the lower peninsula in the southern part of town.

City Manager Masters supported the plaza site over

the Bridge Street or South Street alternatives because it

allowed for freer movement of automobile traffic along the

several streets which converged on the plaza.9 At Masters'

prompting, Greiner wrote a defense of the plaza location.

He endorsed the idea that traffic could best be handled at

the plaza site and added that a central location would encourage

use of the bridge and thus increase toll revenues. To counter

the argument that the bridge would degrade the appearance

of the bayfront, Greiner pictured the bridge as the attractive

focus of a waterfront park and yacht basin:

A bridge in order to be an incentive to further

improvements and developments should be something

more than a mere utilitarian structure, built in

the cheapest possible location without regard to

convenience and environment--it should be an

improvement not only in keeping with the archi-

tectural beauty of St. Augustine, but should be

located as near as possible in the midst of St.

Augustine architectural and historical atmosphere,

and have an approach so designed as to invite entrance

to the bridge from the City, and entrance to the

City from the bridge10

The type of construction to be utilized in the structure

also came into question. Some doubted that concrete bridges

would hold up in salt water over a long period of time, while

others favored an all-concrete bridge instead of the concrete-

and-steel bridge Greiner had proposed. Greiner replied that

improvements in concrete construction had eliminated the

shortcomings of earlier concrete bridges, but that an all-

concrete bridge would cost $200,000 more than the bridge

he had designed and would be no better. He said that with

a new coat of paint every four years the copper and steel

alloy used in the bridge's upper structure would last indefinitely.

"We consider the structure as designed a permanent structure,"

Greiner stated.11

To finance construction of the bridge the city held

a referendum on February 10, 1925 to authorize the sale of

$1,074,000 of municipal bonds to construct the bridge and a

new water system. $611,000 of this total amount was allowed

to the bridge. Results of the election indicated widespread

support of the projects as the bond proposal was approved by

a nine to one vote.12

On March 30, 1925 the city gave the contract for

construction of the bridge to P. T. Cox Company of New York

City at a cost of $609,642. Greiner had recommended that

Cox's bid be accepted.13 Although Cox was prepared to begin

construction almost immediately, work was delayed two months

until a law suit challenging the bond sale was resolved in

the state Supreme Court.14

Work on the bridge project was innaugurated with a

little ceremony on June 17, 1925 when Miss Jean Rodenbaugh,
daughter of the Florida East Coast Railroad Vice President,

presided over the dumping of the first load of concrete into

the restraining wall which would enclose the semi-circular

landfill forming the town approach to the bridge. Construction

of the bridge itself began July 20. Present at the commencement

of work was R. G. Stowell, superintendent for P. T. Cox

Company and William Willoughby, construction engineer for
Greiner Company.15

Willoughby would be the supervising engineer throughout

the project (although local engineer Peter Kendrick had been

hired to do some of the preliminary survey work).16 Only

twenty-seven years old at the time, Willoughby was from a
family of engineers. Just prior to his employment by Greiner

he had been employed at the Florida East Coast's New Smyrna
Engine Terminal. Subsequent to his labor on the Matanzas

River Bridge, Willoughby would design and engineer several

other bridges for Greiner and then become designing engineer

of bridges for the city of Baltimore in 1930.17

Work had hardly begun when the first unforseen obstacle
presented itself in the form of a railroad embargo of goods

destined for Florida. The problem resulted from the Florida

East Coast Railroad's inability to handle the vastly increased

traffic directed over its tracks because of the Florida boom.

In an effort to cope with the situation and keep its roadway
under repair the FEC limited shipments from August, 1925

to February, 1926. In Miami the embargo helped trigger the

crash in land values. Construction of the Bridge of Lions

was slowed by the inability to get sufficient amounts of

sand, gravel, and cement.18

A second problem emerged when the bridge accomplished

one of its purposes: stimulate the development of Anastasia

Island. Tampa developer D. P. Davis announced in the summer

of 1925 plans for a major project on the northern point of

Anastasia Island. Davis proposed to duplicate the multi-

million dollar success he had enjoyed with his Davis Island

development in Tampa Bay by establishing the resort and residential

community of Davis Shores at the eastern end of the Bridge

of Lions. On July 22 Willoughby met with representatives

of the city and D. P. Davis Properties to alter plans for the

eastern approach of the bridge to accommodate Davis's desires.

This was easily accomplished, and subsequent Davis Shores

promotional advertising emphasized the easy access to the

development from town by either foot or auto across the bridge.

The five major boulevards of Davis Shores radiated out from

the bridge, setting the major axes of the Shores' street pattern.

Davis Shores and the Bridge of Lions formed a complementary

relationship from their origins.19

The difficulty presented by Davis's project came

from his need to obtain fill by dredging the bay bottom.
The bridge was designed for water a maximum of about twenty

feet deep, but Davis proposed to nump sand from the river to

make it twice that depth. The City Council considered the

matter on September 30, and Willoughby appeared to present

his objections to the dredging unless the city would agree

to alter the bridge's specifications and carry the bridge's

foundations much deeper. At a meeting on October 20 the city

agreed to spend an additional $300,000 to make the necessary

changes in the bridge's design. Construction of the bridge

resumed under new plans.20

After the delays which had been encountered in building

the bridge, the city leaders were impatient to use the bridge;

yet they also wanted its opening celebrated with appropriate

fanfare. A compromise was reached. On February 26, 1926

a small ceremony marked the inauguration of traffic over the

span. Both Greiner and Cox were on hand for the occasion.21
The official opening, which had been planned to coincide

with the city's traditional Ponce de Leon Celebration, followed

April 7. That day was climaxed by a parade and speeches and

ribbon cutting by Miss Rodenbaugh, now nearly two years older.

Among the dignitaries present in the large crowd was bridge

designer Greiner who pronounced the structure "the most

beautiful" he had built.22

The St. Augustine Record summed-up the feelings of

the bridge's advocates on the occasion of its completions

Dixie's handsomest highway bridge--a million-dollar

steel and concrete structure erected to span the

Matanzas River at St. Augustine--will develop Florida's

finest driving and bathing beaches, will increase

property values on Anastasia Island, will form an

important link in the Ocean Boulevard, and, standing

in full view of the business section, will prove

worth all it has cost as an enduring advertisement

for the prosperity, good taste, daring optimism

and faith of the people of this progressive community.

But it will do ever more than that--it will stand

as a permanent tribute to local enterprise, a

monumental milestone in the long and colorful history

of St. Augustine, marking the definite turn of

public thought toward a greater, better, faster growing

The irony of the Record's remarks is that the bridge

was completed at a time when the optimistic hopes of the

Florida Boom had already collapsed disastrously. The bridge

stands today as the outstanding landmark memorializing the

spirit of the 1920's boom in St. Augustine. It links together

the two other major reminders of that epoch: Davis Shores

to the east and to the west the boomtime Mediterranean architecture

of the First National Bank Building (now Atlantic Bank) and

the adjacent Vaill business block.

The bridge has since its inception fulfilled its

role as a decorative landmark on the bayfront and entrance

to Anastasia Island. In its early years it was proudly

advertised as the "million dollar bridge." A survey of

general tourist promotional brochures in the collection of

the St. Augustine Historical Society shows that the Bridge

of Lions has in most such publications over the years been

highlighted as a "point of interest" rather than simply

indicated as the bridge to the beaches.24

When the Florida Section of the American Society

of Civil Engineers published its Civil Engineering Landmarks,

State of Florida in 1976, the Bridge of Lions was mentioned

second only to Tampa's Gandy Bridge as a significant bridge

of the 1920's period. Of the many bridges built in Florida

in the decade, the Bridge of Lions must rank at or near the

top of those structures still surviving. If any bridge from

the 1920's is worth preserving certainly the Bridge of Lions

nust have a strong claim to that distinction.25


1. "Six Visions of St. Augustine," Atlantic Magazine
(August 1886), 187-96.
2. St. Augustine Tatler, March 28, 1903; February 27,
1904; St. Augustine Record, February 6, May 8, 1903; March 10,
17, April 21, September 15, December 15, 1904; January 10, 1908.
3. St. Augustine Record, July 14, 17, 1917.
4. Ibid., July 9, 15, 16, 1919.
5. Ibid., February 27, April 6, 1927; Minutes of the
City Council of St. Augustine, 1913-1925, pp. 420-21, January 1,
6. St. Augustine Record, April 30, 1924.

7. Ibid., April 29, July 23, 1924; copy of telegram
from Eugene Masters to J. E. Greiner, October 22, 1924,
Matanzas Bridge Papers, St. Augustine Historical Society.
8. City Manager to J. E. Greiner, August 1, 1924;
J. E. Greiner to Eugene Masters, August 4,. 1924, Matanzas

Bridge Papers;- Thomas Graham, The Awakening of St. Augustine
(St. Augustine, 1978), 230-232.
9. City Manager to U. S. District Engineer, Jacksonville,
December 15, 1924, Matanzas Bridge Papers.
10. City Manager to J. E. Greiner, December 6, 1924;
J. E. Greiner, Report to Lt. Col. Gilbert A. Youngberg,. U. S.
District Engineer, December 13, 1924, Matanzas Bridge Papers.

11. St. Augustine Record, July 23, 1924; J. E. Greiner
to Eugene Masters, January 5, 1925; Robert Ranson to Eugene
Masters, June 9, 1925, Matanzas Bridge Papers.

12. "An Ordinance Providing for the Issue of . .
Bonds of the City of St. Augustine," Matanzas Bridge Papers;
St. Augustine Record, March 13, 1925.

13. St. Augustine Record, March 30, 1925; J. E.
Greiner to City Commission, March 28, 1925, Matanzas Bridge
14. J. E. Greiner to Eugene Masters, May 18, 1925;
Masters to Greiner, May 21, 1925, Matanzas Bridge Papers.
15. E. 0. Roberts to Masters, April 14, 1925; Weekly.
Report of William Willoughby, June 20, 1925, Matanzas Bridge
Papers; St. Augustine Record, February 27, 1927.
16. St. Augustine Record, May 28, 1924; Greiner to
Masters, April 13, 1925, Matanzas Bridge Papers.
17. St. Augustine Record, April 6, 1927; "William
Willoughby," Who's Who in Engineerihgi 1931 (New York, 1931),
18. City Manager to P. T. Cox, December 2, 1925;
Weekly Report of William Willoughby, August 22, 29, 1925,
Matanzas Bridge Papers.
19. St. Augustine Record, February 27, 1927; Weekly
Report of William Willoughby, /date obscured/ July, 1925,
Matanzas Bridge Papers; "Pictorial Record of Davis Shores,"
brochure dated January 15, 1927, Davis Shores File, St. Augstine
Historical Society.

20. St. Augustine Record, October 2, 21, 1925; February
27, 1927; Greiner to Cox, October 24, 1925, Matanzas Bridge Papers;
Weekly Reports of William Willoughby, October, 1925; "Location
Plan of Proposed Matanzas River Bridge, October 30, 1924."

21. St. Augustine Record, February 27, 1927.

22. Ibid., April 7, 8, 1927.
23. Ibid., February 27, 1927.
24. Post card and illustration file of Bridge of
Lions; Attractions and guide books file, St. Augustine Historical

Society. For an overall history and evaluation of the Bridge

of Lions see also Robert M. McDaniel, "The Bridge of Lions,"
typescript dated 1981, St. Augustine Historical Society.
25. J. Paul Hartman, Civil Engineering Landmarks.

State of Florida (Orlando: Florida Section of American Society
of Civil Engineers, 1976), 18-19.

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