Thomas A. Johnson Bridge

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Construction of the bridge over Pensacola Bay, circa 1930

The Thomas A. Johnson Bridge (often called the Old Pensacola Bay Bridge) was the first bridge to span the three-miles of Pensacola Bay between Pensacola and Gulf Breeze. It was built for $2.5 million by the Pensacola Bridge Corporation and opened on June 13, 1931 — simultaneously with the original Pensacola Beach Bridge over Santa Rosa Sound and the Casino resort on Pensacola Beach.

It was a bascule bridge and featured a double-leaf design that could be raised by electric motor for large ships. Motorists were charged a $5 monthly toll.

The Frisco Employees' Magazine described the bridge's structure:

As the party approached Pensacola Bridge over the newly completed approach road, they saw a tremendous structure of reinforced concrete three miles In length, containing 293 spans ... A navigation opening with an electrically operated drawbridge with a clearance of 80 feet horizontal and 17 feet vertical, provides an opening for ocean-going craft at the approximate center of the bridge.

The bridge was renamed in 1948 to honor Thomas A. Johnson, who was responsible for removing the toll.

Dedication ceremonies[edit]

According to the July 1931 issue of The Frisco Employees' Magazine, the dedication ceremonies drew a crowd of 20,000, including "people from Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi. with a generous sprinkling of business men and industrial leaders from Memphis, St. Louis, and other mid-western cities."[1]

The ceremonies began on June 12, when a contingent of about 300 guests of the City and the Pensacola Bridge Corporation made their way across the two bridges to the Casino resort, where they spent the afternoon. In the evening, a banquet was held, after which the guests were entertained with dancing and boxing until around midnight.

The official dedication ceremonies began the next morning, with a parade down Palafox Street and eastward to the foot of the bridge. The Frisco Employees' Magazine described the parade:

Headed by the grand marshal. Mr. Julius F. Wernicke, son of one of the original sponsors of the bridge project, the parade contained bands and troops from the U. S. Army post, bands, bugle and drum corps and marching sailors from the Naval station, American Legion units, Spanish American War Veterans, Boy and Girl Scouts, fraternal and labor organizations, and dozens of private cars carrying officials and visitors."

The parade stopped at the foot of the bridge, where the formal dedication ceremony was held. Allan G. Siems, president of the Pensacola Bridge Corporation, formally presented the bridge to mayor J. Harvey Bayliss, after which 11-year old Patricia Ruth Patterson, daughter of R. G. Patterson, resident vice-president of the Pensacola Bridge Corporation, cut a silver cord and the bridge was officially opened to the public. The ceremony also featured a seventeen gun salute by the 13th Coast Artillery, and a fly-by of a squadron of airplanes from the Naval Air Station. Thereafter the parade proceeded across the bridges to the Casino resort, where an all-day carnival was held.

Conversion to fishing pier[edit]

With the opening of the wider Phillip Dane Beall Sr. Memorial Bridge on August 10, 1962, the old bridge was converted to a fishing pier. After being damaged in 2004 by Hurricane Ivan, the remnants of the bridge were designated to be sunk as an artificial reef.

References[edit]

  1. "Bridge dedication attracts 20,000." The Frisco Employees' Magazine, July 1931. p. 4-5.