I can remember it as though it was yesterday, even though it occurred many, many, decades ago. During our frequent trips to Siesta Key, my wife Ann and I would often encounter delays when the bridge from the mainland to the Key would open to allow passage of Intracoastal Waterway traffic.
Normally any type of delay would be upsetting to most people but to Ann and me, this type of delay was always a welcome event. It was like watching a bit of history since the Stickney Point bridge was one of a dwindling number of swing bridges still in operation in Florida during that period. It was a functioning relic of history, an awesome piece of long-standing architecture, amazing to look at and an absolute thrill to watch as it slowly swung open.
Unlike most modern day bridges, when the warning gates were lowered on the Stickney Point bridge, it would trigger a strange and unique event. Well, strange only if you were an outsider, to local people it was a normal everyday occurrence. At the first indication the bridge was about to open, occupants of vehicles waiting in line to cross the span would all leave their vehicles and head to the edge of the bridge. The opening of the bridge would spark an enjoyable social event. People would carry on friendly conversations as they watched the two bridge tenders carry a T-bar out to center span and begin “cranking” the bridge open. Round and round they went, like a mule team at an old sorghum press, and slowly, ever so slowly, the bridge would begin to open.
No matter how many times we watched, we never tired of the event. I guess we all knew the old bridge would soon disappear, swinging into history, replaced by yet another one of those boring “rubber stamp” bridges with lots of concrete and steel but absolutely no character. The old bridge would no longer be part of the physical world, but instead would only exist on the pages of a dusty old history book sitting on some anonymous library shelf.
Many years later as we made yet another uneventful crossing on the modern Stickney Point replacement bridge, my mind drifted back to the old days and those enjoyable social events associated with that wonderful old swing bridge. Oh, how I missed those days when life was simpler and people took the time to stop, chat, and watch the bridge swing open.
A great deal of time has passed since “those good old days”, and as was my custom, I was relaxing on a Sunday morning, enjoying a cup of coffee, and reading our local paper. None of the articles seemed to peak my interest, nothing really jumped out and said, “Read me”…well, that is until I turned the page and stumbled upon an article that brought back fond memories. It was a story about a swing bridge. The historical bridge was located in Fort Denaud and I was both surprised and thrilled to read it was only an hour’s drive from where we were now living.
The article went on to describe the Fort Denaud bridge as an important link between the homes and agricultural operations located on both sides of the Caloosahatchee River. It provides a connection between route 78 and route 80 in Lee County, Florida. The bridge was moved in nineteen-hundred and sixty-three from its previous site on the Intracoastal Waterway in Pompano Beach to its current site on the Caloosahatchee. It replaced a deteriorating bridge located a few yards upstream, which had been condemned and removed some time earlier.
After reading the article and discussing it, Ann and I decided we would definitely be taking a trip out to Fort Denaud.
Image of the old condemned bridge (photographer unknown)
Fort Denaud Swing Bridge
The day finally arrived for our trip to Fort Denaud. Unlike the coastal area where the Stickney Point bridge was located, the Fort Denaud bridge was in a rustic, rural setting. When we lived in Sarasota, we used to refer those rural areas as “the other part of Florida” since most people seem to think there’s only palm trees, orange trees, and beaches in Florida…oh, and theme parks. The area around the bridge was awesome and I could have spent the whole day just shooting landscapes, but we were there to “step back in time”.
When we finally arrived at the bridge site, I pulled up next to the bridge tenders office and parked. As we got out of our vehicle and started to look around the beauty of the area amazed me, but at the same time, I was somewhat disappointed with the bridge. Don’t get me wrong, it was an outstanding bridge…it just was not the same…it was not the Stickney Point bridge.
As much as the nostalgic side of me wanted the bridge to be the same, the practical side was saying, “Things change, surely in this day and age you didn’t expect a crank open bridge with an old time look?”…I guess not and the bridge with its rustic setting was indeed amazing. Therefore, I decided to make the most of our trip and knocked on the bridge tenders door.
Now, I don’t want to sound like a “male chauvinist pig”, but when the door opened and the bridge tender said, “Hi, I’m Janice, whatcha need?” my mouth was hanging open…catching flies…I mean, I looked like a Capuchin monkey. Standing in front of me was not the male bridge tender that I was accustomed to seeing, no, standing in front of me was this neat lady with a twinkle in her eye and a warm smile on her face. I’m guessing she had seen the look on my face many times before because she was kind enough not make an issue of my obvious blunder.
Janice, Ann, and I sat and talked for quite some time. What an interesting person and I could tell she really liked her job and was proud of her accomplishments. Since it was a weekday, she said the odds were against us seeing a bridge opening. We would have a better chance of that on a weekend when there was an increase in pleasure craft traffic. No sooner had she finished her statement she received a radio call…it was a sailboat headed upriver and they needed the bridge opened. Janice turned to me with a questioning look of “How’d you do that?”
So we headed out to the bridge and the whole time, Janice was telling us about every step she had to take to open the bridge…I was in awe.
Once the warning gates were lowered and road traffic had stopped, Janice began her trek out to mid span. The whole time, she was in constant radio contact with the approaching sailboat.
As the sailboat maneuvered into position, Janice hit the switch that started the bridge opening process. Even though it was not the old “crank open” procedure, even thought it was now operated by electric motors, it was still an impressive thing to watch.
In no time at all, the sailboat had disappeared from sight and the river returned to normal. Its tranquil beauty gave no indication it had ever been disturbed.
On our way home, Ann and I discussed the days outing. Although we thoroughly enjoyed our experience, we came to the conclusion that no matter how hard you try, there is absolutely no way you could “step back in time”…well, that is unless you’re Mr. Peabody and own a “Wayback Machine”.
Another great adventure comes to an end. It doesn’t get any better than this…well, unless you’re talking about being a teenager and just passing the test to get your driver’s license. That might just be a step up from this story.
I guess as we travel the road of life, we can never be really sure which way the road will turn…one thing’s for certain though, enjoy today for tomorrow it will be history.
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