Manatee History Matters: The Bridges of Manatee County

May 19, 2014 

Postcard of the Manatee River Bridge looking toward Palmetto. PHOTO PROVIDED

The area's bridges have greatly contributed to the development of Manatee County over its 159-year history. Bridges are something we hardly think about -- unless you are sitting in traffic waiting to get somewhere.

Wares Creek Bridge has had many versions in its history. Before its initial completion in 1886, people would cross the creek at Tyler's Ford farther upstream. Jacques Creek Bridge no longer exists; the creek still runs under Manatee Avenue two blocks west of the School Board Building, but it's no longer visible. It is now just a slight dip in the road. Accidents and injuries caused both structures to be condemned in January 1892 and both reopened after repairs the same year.

Jacques Creek Bridge also served as the eastern boundary of Braidentown's quarantine during the Yellow Fever outbreak in 1888. Guards were posted and ordered to admit no one, and to ignore all passes for anyone coming into Braidentown who had recently been in Palmetto or come into contact with anyone from Palmetto. The same policy applied to Braidentown's wharves.

The first vehicular bridge to cross the Manatee River was the Davis Toll Bridge in 1910. The bridge span started in Old Manatee at the end of what is now Ninth Street East ending east of the Convention Center. The bridge was one lane with turnouts; the extremely noisy planking and the close proximity to the Seaboard Airline Railroad Bridge scared the animals trying to crossing it.

In 1914, the county wanted 22 bridges built for a cost of $181,710; the bond was defeated by local voters 443 to 392. Funding and voter approval are always a hindrance to new bridge construction.

In 1919, the first bridge from Braidentown to Palmetto was opened to replace the Davis Toll Bridge, which was moved to Snead's Island. The new bridge made a sharp veer to the left, prompting people to joke about driving to

the middle of the river and taking a left to get to Palmetto. The bridge was also one of the last connecting pieces of what became the Tamiami Trail, running down the west coast of Florida and across to Miami. The Tampa Southern Railroad Bridge was constructed at the same time, running to the east and parallel to Victory Bridge.

The need for a modern bridge was met in 1927 with the Green Bridge, named not for the color green but for E.P. Green, a local businessman and member of the State Road Board. Green Bridge serviced this area until 1986 when it was replaced by a newer version; it is still called the Green Bridge. The older span is now a pier where residents can enjoy various social events, including fishing.

In the 1950s, there was an infrastructure building campaign in the county, and the Manatee Avenue Bridge, the Causeway to Anna Maria Island and the bridge to Longboat Key were completed.

The bridge to Longboat was in conjunction with the construction of Coquina Beach, which was created at the same time. Other bridges in the area -- Rye Bridge, State Road 64 Bridge and State Road 70 Bridge (although there was no paved road past the point of this bridge) -- received some long overdue attention.

The 1920s Cortez Bridge had recently been replaced with a toll bridge; the older portion served as a pier in Bradenton Beach.

The Manatee River Bridge, aka Desoto Bridge on U.S. 41, was constructed in 1957, traffic coming off three main highways: U.S. 41, U.S. 301 and U.S. 19 (Skyway Bridge traffic) converged at this point. In 1959, after the opening of the Desoto Bridge there was an article in a local paper stating "….as the bridge most likely to alleviate the Suncoast's congested traffic, it now has become a span which if used will lead to a worse traffic jam further south."

So the next time you are complaining about traffic on the bridges, show them a little respect and just imagine when there were no bridges to get you across the Manatee River, to the Islands, or across our many creeks, back when your only choice of transportation would be to go by ferry, small boat, horse and cart -- or take your shoes off and wade across.

Cindy Russell, records librarian with the Manatee County Historical Records Library, can be reached at or 941-741-4070. Cindy has lived in Manatee County since 1975 and worked for the Clerk's Office for 12 years. She loves genealogy research and all kinds of puzzles.

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