#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Bridge

This week’s prompt in Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge is “Bridge.” Here is the first memory that popped into my mind.

When I was little, I didn’t get to see my extended family all that much. My dad, as I’ve mentioned before, was in the Navy. We lived hundreds or thousands of miles away, and travel was expensive. We did visit a few times – when my mom and dad first brought me home from Spain, when I was a year old, when my great-grandmother died. When I was four, my dad was stationed in Scotland, so we didn’t visit for, I think, about a year and a half.

Nowadays, if I’ve been to a place four or five times over four years, I might remember vaguely how to get there, or maybe not, especially if I’m not doing the driving. I certainly wouldn’t expect a small child to have any idea what was going on.

Now, I don’t really remember this myself; it’s something my mother told me years ago, and I remember the story. My maternal grandparents, Hoyt and Willie Cook, picked us up at the airport (we left Scotland while my dad was on a cruise, and he came home later). I had been to their house before, a few times, but they had moved from the Brent community, just north of Pensacola, out to Midway, a community east of the city of Gulf Breeze. The way the story goes, we got on the 3 Mile Bridge over Pensacola Bay and I asked where we were going. They told me to Mam-ma and Pap-pa’s house, and I said we were going the wrong way, because they didn’t live across a bridge.

Hoyt and Willie Cook’s property on East Bay (Lagniappe Beach). That concrete bench (on the left) and boat ramp (right) were there all my life.

It’s a story I’ve thought of a lot recently, because I work in the news business, and the rebuilding of the Pensacola Bay Bridge has been a story for years. First, came the planning for the new bridge. Then they built the first half of the bridge. Then traffic shifted over, and they started tearing down the old bridge – the only Pensacola Bay Bridge I have ever known. Then Hurricane Sally and some runaway barges tore it apart.

For the first time in my life, there was no easy way to get from Pensacola to Gulf Breeze.

The first Pensacola Bay Bridge was built in 1931. Before that, the only way to get across was by boat. Construction cost, per the Florida Department of Transportation, was $2.5 million. A toll was imposed to pay the bill. According to an article in the Pensacola Journal (April 28, 1932), the fee was $1 for car and driver plus ten cents per passenger. I plugged in $1 at the WestEgg inflation calculator, and that’s the equivalent of $19.28 cents today! Tolls could also be paid with a coupon book – six trips for $5 or 25 trips for $20. Eventually, I gather, the bridge was paid for, and the tolls were lifted.

In 1960, a new bridge opened. That’s the one I crossed going to Mam-ma and Pap-pa’s house that Christmas Eve in 1971. I was really worried that Santa Claus wouldn’t know where to bring my gifts, but that jolly old elf delivered one of my favorite presents ever – a palomino spring horse I named Sylvia (like the Lone Ranger’s Silver, but my horse was a girl).

After the new bridge opened, the middle was cut out of the old bridge, and for many years, the two ends served as drive-on fishing piers. Hurricane Ivan damaged them badly enough in 2004 that they were removed. The Pensacola side was rebuilt and is open for fisher folk.

Novy Lee Hale (L) and Hoyt Cook (R) on the back porch of the cinder block cabin Hoyt and Willie built for vacationing and entertaining. That's probably a grill or deep fryer in front of Pap-pa.
Novy Lee Hale (L) and Hoyt Cook (R) on the back porch of the cinder block cabin Hoyt and Willie built for vacationing and entertaining. That’s probably a grill or deep fryer in front of Pap-pa.

We got in a wreck once on the 3 Mile Bridge, probably because of the fishing bridge. This would have been around 1994 or ’95, I think. My husband’s parents had come down for a visit, and we probably had been over to Mam-ma and Pap-pa’s place or else out to the beach. My husband saw a car up ahead hit their brakes – he had seen a flash of movement to the right and figured someone caught a fish, and he blamed that for the chain reaction. The first car got away clean. Two or three others ahead of us collided. Tim stopped, and another vehicle rear-ended us. There was just enough room between our bumper and the car in front to slide a couple of pieces of paper.

Now, finally, the new new Pensacola Bay Bridge, part one, has reopened, although they’re still working to finish it. Heck, I think they were still working on it to some extent when Sally hit. Part two is supposed to open later this year or sometime in 2022. Then traffic from Pensacola to Gulf Breeze will drive on one span, and traffic from Gulf Breeze to Pensacola will drive on the other. The new spans are much higher; I don’t think anyone will be able to see someone catching a fish on the pier below.

Of course, I don’t have as much reason to cross the bridge anymore. It’s the fastest route to Pensacola Beach, but we rarely went out there, and never since they automated the Bob Sikes toll bridge, upping the cost to $3.50 per trip. (Of course, that doesn’t seem quite so steep compared to the 1932 cost for the 3 Mile Bridge.) Once or twice we went over to Navarre to visit my uncle and his family. Mam-ma and Pap-pa died in the ’90s. My other uncle had moved into their home, but Ivan left it beyond repair.

With the demolition of the old new Pensacola Bay Bridge, it really is the end of an era, but I will never forget telling my Pap-pa he was driving the wrong way, because we didn’t have to cross a bridge to get to his house.

About Taminar

When I grow up, I want to make movies and write books. Now in my 50s, I wonder if I'll ever really accomplish the dreams of my youth. I have made two short films, one for a college film-making class, the other for an MTV-sponsored contest. I have written short plays that have been produced, and a few short stories and reviews that have been published. I also perform and direct for community theatre. My working life has included stints in local TV news, public relations, retail management and cashier, and for a couple of years, I made the rides go at Walt Disney World. I have two cats and a husband.
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2 Responses to #52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Bridge

  1. Barb LaFara says:

    Your memory of the old bridge is sweet, other than the car accident, thanks for sharing!

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