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The Acosta Bridge: A Century Of Crossing The St. Johns River

Jacksonville is marking a milestone as the Acosta Bridge turns 100 on July 1.

The Downtown span, which was originally named the St. Johns River Bridge, is being celebrated with two days of events (see bottom of story for details), including an illustrated presentation by local historian Wayne Wood and a vintage car parade.

The first version of the bridge was considered an engineering marvel as the first lift bridge in the state of Florida when it opened in 1921.

The million-dollar bridge was dubbed “Duval County’s Gift to Florida,” connecting the cities of Jacksonville and what was then, South Jacksonville.

St_Johns_River_Bridge_Opening_-_Front_page_of_The_Florida_Metropolis_30_June_1921_0.jpg
Credit Wikimedia Commons
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Miss Jacksonville, Theodosia Acosta shakes hands with Miss South Jacksonville Elizabeth White in this 1921 illustration.

The original bridge, which was replaced with the existing span in 1991, was credited with contributing to the Florida Land Boom of the 1920s, opening up more automotive and truck travel across the river.

San Marco Preservation Society President Desiree Bailey explained Thursday on First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross how opening the Acosta forever changed what we call Jacksonville today.

“If you wanted to go from one city to the other, you either took a ferry or you swam across the St. Johns River, which I don't think very many people did. So when this bridge opened, it really gave everyone the power to travel, to expand. It opened up the entire east coast of Florida," she said, adding, "Previously Flagler’s railroad bridge was the only one, which not a lot of people traveled on. So it was fascinating because it expanded right at the time of the land boom. And so many parts of town were developed and the commerce started.” 

Bailey said it opened up San Marco being developed, along with San Jose, all the way down to Mandarin.

“I believe that on the day that the bridge opened almost every single car in Duval County crossed over the bridge. It was such a monumental [day]. Everyone was so excited. Apparently they partied for a few days.”

Commissioner St. Elmo W. Acosta lobbied for the span, which was later renamed in his honor.

Built from 1904 to 1921, the St. Johns River Bridge opened as the first automobile and pedestrian bridge to span the St. Johns River in Downtown, according to the Jacksonville Transit Agency (JTA)

The three-lane steel vertical-lift bridge featured a yellow center section that raised for passing vessels on the river. It was nicknamed the “Yellow Monster” because the section would often get stuck during operations causing traffic delays. Passengers paid tolls to cross until 1940.

The bridge closed from 1991-1994 and was replaced with the six-lane bridge that is still in operation today, and includes two dedicated lanes for the Skyway, which Jacksonville's monorail system.

The box girder design of the current bridge utilized pre-stressed concrete and is twice the width of the original, according to JTA. The current bridge is 81 feet tall to allow for boat traffic, alleviating the need for a vertical lift and features an LED lighting system that was installed in 2019, which is programmed in a variety of colors based on different events, such as the Fourth of July.

Acosta Bridge 100th Anniversary Events

On Thursday, June 24, local author and historian Wayne Wood will be joining the San Marco Preservation Society (SMPS) to speak about the importance of the bridge at this particular time in history as well as the journey involved in building the bridge. The public is invited to attend his presentation, which will take place at 6:00 p.m. in the fellowship hall at Southside Baptist Church, located at 1435 Atlantic Blvd.

On Saturday, June 26, the SMPS is sponsoring an antique car parade over the bridge to commemorate the original parade, held 100 years ago on July 1, 1921, at the bridge’s opening. Vintage cars from around the area will participate. The parade route will start near MOSH and enter the bridge going northbound. Once it crosses the river, it will circle back on Bay Street and cross the bridge again, traveling southbound. It will then continue down San Marco Blvd. to San Marco Square, where the cars will park and be on display. Festivities and light refreshments will be offered in Balis Park. The parade begins at 11:00 a.m.

Additional information is available on the San Marco Preservation Society’s website. The full interview with Bailey is available on Thursday’s First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross, which encores at 8 p.m. on WJCT News 89.9.

Bill Bortzfield can be reached at bbortzfield@wjct.org or on Twitter at @BortzInJax.

Bill joined WJCT News in September of 2017 from The Florida Times-Union, where he served in a variety of multimedia journalism positions.