The Old Swing Bridge

Dated: 04/24/2019

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The old swing bridge that served the island for over 50 years was built in Germany in 1927.  The bridge was brought to the United States in 1928 originally for use in Jacksonville.  However, the bridge was somehow diverted to Fort Myers Beach sometime in 1928.  In 1929 the bridge was installed at the present site of the Sky Bridge.  

This bridge replaced the old wooden toll bridge that was destroyed in the 1926 hurricane.  The original bridge was operated by two bridge tenders who would manually pull the large key like lever in order to open the bridge for boats.  It would take about fifteen minutes for the bridge to open and close causing traffic to back up on San Carlos and Estero Islands.

In 1943 the swing portion of the bridge was converted to operate electrically which helped it to open and close more quickly.  The swing bridge was the only way to get on or off the island until the Big Carlos Pass Bridge was built in 1965. 

Although the bridge was temperamental and would get stuck in the open or closed position, it served the island well until 1975 when the Lee County Department of Transportation decided that the old bridge was in such bad shape that a new bridge would be built. 

By 1979, the DOT determined that the old bridge was unsafe to open at all, so it was permanently locked down and used for road traffic only. Only one vehicle was allowed to cross the bridge at a time causing major traffic jams.  Eventually, traffic was diverted to the new bridge and the old bridge was removed.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the old swing bridge was a large part of my childhood.  I spent many afternoons fishing off the bridge and watching the fishing flee return to port with their catch. 

When I returned to the island after college, I remember when the bridge was closed for about two weeks for repairs.  This must have been sometime in the late 70s before the bridge was permanently locked down.  At the time I was teaching in Fort Myers and did not want to drive around the south end to get to work. 

Luckily, the Island Belle was put into service to ferry people across the bay.  The county had a small bus that would pick up commuters along Estero Blvd and bring them to the end of Crescent Street where the Island Belle would be moored for the short trip to San Carolos Island. 

We would leave our cars on San Carlos Island in and around the shrimp docks where Dixie Fish is now.   When I returned after work, I would once again catch the ferry for a ride back to the island.  Although this was a major inconvenience, I remember those days fondly as a time when the island slowed down, traffic was non-existent, and I met many new friends on the Island Belle.  

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Ellie Bunting

Ellie has returned to real estate sales after spending the last 40 years teaching English at Florida SouthWestern State College in Fort Myers She has teamed up with her husband, Bob, who has been a....

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