NOTES ON THE HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE
BRIDGE OF LIONS
Historic St. Augustine Preservation Board
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 would 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
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 Mlasters 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 bridge0
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,"
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 1,iss 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
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 Hiami 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 olans.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 completion:
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.2
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
must 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 Engineering, 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
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.