Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Historic Suwannee River Swing Bridge

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This historic swing bridge was a really fantastic discovery I made on 7-29-11 on the outskirts of Branford Florida. But it almost never happened. The directions I received from a local woman were rather difficult to understand. In total I passed up the road I needed to turn down twice. Then I found myself going 8-10 miles too far. Realizing I was way off course, I stopped at a small sandwich shop for help. I talked to a local who swore he know the bridge and directions, and guaranteed I would get there with his help. So I had to turn around east back towards Branford, but wanted a second opinion, so I stopped at an insurance business. Again a local guy knew exactly how to get there, so I set off still heading east. However I passed the road I needed to turn down again as the street sign had no name facing my direction. So again, I quickly realized a church was my landmark, and the road I needed was across from it, Finally I was going down the right road. However, I was still not sure where I needed to go now.

I started out my morning stopping at Troy Spring State Park. A small place, but very beautiful. Lots of moss covered oak trees were here. And a bonus was trying to get a glimpse in shallow water of the spring run where the remains of the Civil War era steamboat Madison was scuttled in 1863 to keep it from being captured. That was pretty cool. So after so much time had passed in my morning, I was getting very anxious and frazzled to say the least. I still had over a 225 mile drive, but I knew I was so close to seeing a historic swing bridge in the Suwannee River. And I just couldn't let anything stop me from getting there. So now I'm heading down NE county road 361, and it turns left. Now I'm really in rural Florida with not much around. So I arrive at Highway 354, and take a left. I'm hoping I remembered that this is the right way.

So I continue driving. And to be honest I wasn't sure of the road I needed to turn down next. I had forgotten. A memo to myself. Next time write down directions from people you ask. So now I'm really lost on Highway 354. And the road turns to the right. Then again to the left. Now it becomes South Convict Spring Road. A real comforting place to be lost. Then I see Convict Spring Conservation Area. I didn't know what that place was. And with the name I didn't want to find out. So I continue driving, knowing I didn't know where I was. So I'm looking for someone or some place to get help. Then I pass a business but it's sitting so far off the main road so I keep driving. Then I arrive at a stop sign. I'm at Highway 51. I look to my left and I see a bridge. But not the bridge I wanted. This one was new.

Now I'm just about to lose it. So much time and miles have passed. So I turn around and am so close to admitting defeat. Of I forgot one important thing. Really important. When I first turned left on Highway 354 I passed a road on my right. And pulling up to the stop sign just before I passed was a shiny new SUV. I though nothing of it earlier but it hit me. It didn't look like a local vehicle. It looked like a tourist. It was a long shot but I went with it. So I turned down that road. Tansy Road. A gravel road. And now I'm feeling my luck is about to change. Now I'm driving faster that I should be. The road is just a little bumpy. I quickly came upon sporadic small houses and mobile homes. And I'm looking for someone to be outside to ask about the bridge. Then I quickly stop. I spot someone in their front yard. So I back up. How lucky is this I said to myself. A Florida Wildlife guy at his company truck.

So I jump out, said a big hello, and told him I was lost and I was looking for the swing bridge. "It's just up the road" he replied. "You are real close. When you get to the cross street make a right. The road will end into a boat ramp. Park before the ramp and walk down to the water. the bridge will be to the left". I was ecstatic. I gave him a big thank him, jumped in my car, and away I go. I arrive at a cross street. Then I turn right. I could see the water up ahead. I come up to the boat ramp. There was a house on poles with a big yard next to me. I just hoped no one came out with a shot gun. I quickly walked down the boat ramp. It was steep. I get to the waters edge and there it was. The historic swing bridge. It was beautiful. Built in 1899.

It was so quiet, and it just felt like I had stepped back in time. The Suwannee River was smooth as glass. Not one single ripple. The giant support protruding out of the water was massive. And the steel frame was long. Very long. 260 feet. It has a huge pinion gear that allowed it to turn with some sort of crank. Pretty cool. I took lots of pictures but no video. Hopefully I can come back again, rent a canoe a short distance away, and get even closer to document it again. This was just a real thrill and treat to see this up fairly close.


The following info courtesy Historic Bridges Dot Org: The bridge and the railroad it served has connections to Florida's governor (from 1877-1881) George Franklin Drew and his sons George L. Drew and Franklin Drew. George Franklin Drew also created a logging company called the Drew Lumber Company, which was operated along with his son George L. Drew. In 1899, the lumber company found need for a railroad to haul their materials, and they ended up buying the Suwannee and San Pedro Railroad, and extended it so that it would cross the Suwannee River. They took over the railroad's charter in July 1, 1899 and only 20 days later amended it to extend the link to places like Mayo, FL. This new, extended route needed a Suwannee River bridge.

George L. Drew died in September 27, 1900, and Franklin Drew and George L. Drew took the lead in the railroad endeavor as a result. They had purchased a bridge for $15,500, which reportedly came from Brazil, which was barged into this location to serve their new section of railroad line. Reportedly, the eastern approach grading work was completed by May 8, 1901. It is thus assumed the bridge was installed around this time. The Suwannee and San Pedro Railroad was merged with some other railroad companies into the Florida Railway in 1905. The railway did not last, partially due to completion from other railroads, and from 1918-1921 the railroad was dismantled. The bridge however was not scrapped out, and instead in 1920, Suwannee and Lafayette Counties purchased the bridge for potential use as a highway bridge. This apparently never panned out, and the bridge has remained standing abandoned in the open position to this day. Thanks for seeing here.