Historic City Memories: The Bridge of Lions II

The Bridge of Lions

Part two of a three part series

The Coming of the Bridge of Lions

By Geoff Dobson

By 1925, St. Augustine was on a roll. In 1913, the City received a new City Charter providing for a city manager form of government, only the fifth municipality to adopt the system intended to bring professional management to municipal government.

D. P. Davis, the creator of Davis Island in Tampa, Florida’s most famous developer, had announced that he was coming to St. Augustine to create a new development which would feature several large hotels, apartment houses, a yacht club, a memorial to Don Pedro Menendez, and a residential community.

Today it is hard to imagine just how large the Davis development was going to be. It stretched from the inlet south to where Harbour Island is now located. Even today, eighty-five years later, Davis’ successors have not achieved build-out. In anticipation of the growth, the City expanded its city limits on Anastasia Island as far south as the present south city limits of St. Augustine Beach and out into Ravenswood to where St. Augustine High School is now located.

In 1917, the city employed a Chicago planner to provide the city with recommendations for improvements, in essence, an early comprehensive plan or vision of what the city should be. Among the recommendations was the expansion of parking, the widening of Bay Street by constructing a new seawall, the construction of a civic center, zoning, widening of Riberia Street, and construction of a marina on the San Sebastian River.

The planner also devoted his attention to the old South Beach railroad bridge running from Bay Street across the bay to Anastasia Island. The railroad bridge provided only a minimal opening of less than forty feet for vessels. The plan called for the replacement of the old wooden bridge with a modern bridge having arches and a wider opening. It was recommended that to preclude traffic congestion in the downtown area of the Plaza, that the new bridge be constructed from Old Quarry Road to South Street.

In anticipation of the projected growth, the City undertook to replace the old wooden bridge which had long before outlasted its anticipated life expectancy. The City authorized revenue bonds to be issued to pay for the new “million dollar” Matanzas River Bridge. The bonds would be paid by tolls on the bridge.

To design the new bridge, the city employed the nations most famous and prestigious bridge engineer, John Edwin Greiner (1859-1942) of Baltimore. In the Pantheon of Bridge Engineers, Greiner today is recognized by some as one of the three major icons of American bridge engineers, the other two being John Augustus Roebling, the designer of the Brooklyn Bridge, and Gustav Lindenthal, the engineer for the Hell Gate Bridge and the Queensboro Bridge in New York and the Smithfield Street Bridge and the Seventh Street Bridge in Pittsburgh. Greiner received his start as resident engineer for Lindenthal on the Seventh Street Bridge project.

Greiner became a bridge engineer for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. He designed a patented system of constructing steel railroad bridges. As a railroad bridge engineer, Greiner designed the graceful James River and the Rappahannock River Bridges for the Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad Company. As the country’s most famous bridge engineer, Greiner was called upon for an evaluation of the Eads Bridge in St. Louis. In 1908, Greiner left the Baltimore and Ohio and formed his own company, J. E. Greiner and Company. He was responsible for the design of the Beaux Arts Hanover Street Bridge in Baltimore, regarded by some as one of America’s most beautiful bridges. The bridge supported the roadway on cantilevered arches. On either side of the bascule opening were four small towers, a motif followed by Greiner in the new Matanzas River Bridge. The arches on the Bridge of Lions are in fact cantilevers made from riveted steel plates. As railroad bridge engineer, Greiner had observed that bridges on the New York Central were riveted steel plates rather held together by pins that as was customary in the day. There was, thus, less movement in the New York Central Bridges and they lasted much longer and could achieve a life expectancy as much as 50 years as compared with the normal life expectancy of twenty-five years. See 34, Transactions of the American Society of Civil Engineers, “Correspondence” p. 310 et. seq.

The other day at morning coffee one local bon vivant, world traveler, and man-about-town observed that he had recently travelled over the new “temporary bridge” and had looked at the new replacement Bridge of Lions and observed the riveted plates of which the arches and trusses were made.. He exclaimed, “My G–, it’s a railroad bridge!” Indeed it is. And yet, railroad bridges can be beautiful and the City’s new railroad bridge will soon reopen.

The J. E. Greiner Company, even after Greiner’s death in 1942, continued having a major influence on structures within the State of Florida. The Greiner Company served as consulting engineers for the Florida Turnpike and designed major improvement to the Tampa Airport. Indeed, when the writer was with the state of Florida, he had an architectural rendering of the Tampa Airport prepared by the Greiner Company hanging over the sofa in his office. It clearly showed a 747 taking off from a taxi strip. The J.E. Greiner Company also served as engineers in the construction of the new Denver Airport. It also solved the mystery of the crack in the Sunshine Skyway supports. In 1969, the company was acquired by Easco Engineering Corp.

Next week: The coming of the replacement Bridge of Lions.

Geoff Dobson, a St Augustine resident for the past 33 years, is a western and Florida history writer. He is a former president of the St. Augustine Historical Society and a regular contributor of nostalgic memories to Historic City News. Before his parents moved to Florida, his father was a Black Angus cattleman. Geoff has written extensively on Wyoming history (“Wyoming Tales and Trails”). When Geoff was in high school, his family lived in the cattle country of eastern Sarasota County. The family spread, which his parents called “Wild Cat Slough,” was reachable only by a pair of ruts over the sand hills and through a snake and gator infested slough. Now, it is an area of four-lane roads, expensive subdivisions, shopping centers, and office parks. . His undergraduate degree is in history. Geoff received his post-graduate degree from the University of Florida. He may be reached at horse.creek.cowboy@gmail.com

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