The Acosta Bridge celebrates 100 years
On July 1, 1921, 5,000 cars drove over the first bridge built to cross the St. Johns River to connect the north bank of the river to the south bank. That may have been almost every car in Jacksonville, as noted local historian Wayne Wood reports in Jacksonville’s Architectural Heritage, because at that time only about 5,000 families among the city’s nearly 100,000 residents owned cars. In the last week of this month, the San Marco Preservation Society is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Acosta Bridge with a multi-day celebration.
Almost a century ago, the realization of what is now the Jacksonville metropolitan area was just beginning. On July 1, 1921, 5,000 cars drove over the first bridge built to cross the St. Johns River to connect the north bank of the river with the south bank . That may have been almost every car in Jacksonville, as noted local historian Wayne Wood reports in Jacksonville’s Architectural Heritage, because at that time only about 5,000 families among the city’s nearly 100,000 residents owned cars.
In the last week of June, the San Marco Preservation Society celebrates the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Acosta Bridge with a multi-day celebration. On June 24th at 6 p.m. Wood will speak about the significance of the event.
On June 26th at 11 a.m., a car parade will recreate the original Acosta Bridge crossing from the Southbank. Local dignitaries and descendants of 1921 city officials, such as Andy Acosta Newman, St. Elmo Acosta’s granddaughter, will attend. The procession will return to San Marco at noon with further celebrations in St. Mark’s Square.
The bridge was the result of a campaign launched in 1904 by St. Elmo “Chic” Acosta. He was elected to the city council in 1908 and 1912 and to the state parliament in 1913, with the planned motorway bridge being one of his main subjects. Despite some opposition, Jacksonville residents approved a $ 950,000 loan to build the bridge in 1917. On September 25, 1919, Acosta led the groundbreaking ceremonies for the start of construction.
The monumental span was originally opened with a lot of fanfare and celebrations. Dignitaries from the cities of Jacksonville and South Jacksonville, which were separate parishes at the time, joined a parade on either side of the bridge to meet in the center for the official christening ceremony. The mayors of the two cities were joined by the Florida governor, local officials and other dignitaries.
“Miss South Jacksonville Elizabeth White, daughter of the first Mayor of South Jacksonville, attended not only the opening, but years later when the original structure was replaced with a more modern bridge,” said Robin Robinson, historian, board member and former President of the San Marco Preservation Society.
According to Jacksonville’s Architectural Heritage, the bridge has been declared a “Gift from Duval County to Florida”. On August 17, 1949, two years after Acosta’s death, the name of the span was changed to “St. Elmo W. Acosta Bridge. “
In addition to being the first vertical lift bridge in Florida and the first automobile bridge over the St. Johns River, it was also the first bridge in the southeast to use a pneumatic method to place its caissons. It originally had two tram tracks running in the middle.
The opening of the bridge sparked rapid growth in South Jacksonville and resulted in the annexation of the community by the City of Jacksonville in 1932. The bridge was also instrumental in the growth of the beach area as a more direct car route from the new bridge to the beach. In 1932 the Florida East Coast Railway stopped operating its Jacksonville-Jacksonville Beach route. The tracks were added and the right of way was transferred to the State of Florida in 1937, with Beach Boulevard being completed along this route in 1949. The consolidation of the city of Jacksonville went into effect in 1968 and included the beaches of Neptune, Atlantic, and Jacksonville into a combined government structure, but maintaining their local bylaws and local governments.
Photos courtesy of the Jacksonville Historical Society
The bridge also encouraged residential development in Mandarin, which remained in decline until after World War I when it began its gradual growth as a residential community. The opening of the Acosta Bridge in 1921 cut travel time to Jacksonville and made it easier to live in Mandarin and still stay connected to the city.
Also thanks to the bridge, the area south of the river became very attractive for residential development, an example of which is the Avondale district, which was founded by Telfair Stockton in 1921 as the new standard for stylish neighborhoods.
However, progress sometimes has unintended consequences. According to Robinson, four men raided the South Jacksonville Bank within three weeks of the bridge’s opening in 1921. A fifth man was waiting for the robbers in a getaway car. After the robbery, they all raced over the new bridge to escape cleanly.
The effect of the bridge could also be felt far beyond Jacksonville. It opened up trips south along the east coast of Florida and contributed to the Florida land boom of the 1920s. It stood until it was replaced in 1991.
Posted by Karen Rieley
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