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The Bridge of Lions in St. Augustine carries A1A over the Mantanzas Bay to Anastasia Island and south to Key West, where State Road A1A actually begins. A pair of marble Medici lions adorn the bridge, completed in 1927 by the “Father of the Bridge of Lions,” Henry Rodenbaugh, a vice president and bridge expert for Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway.

Henry Flagler and John D. Rockefeller founded Standard Oil, but by 1885 Flagler had left the corporation (he still sat on the board of directors) to essentially develop the entire east coast of Florida, he being known as the “Father of Miami and Palm Beach.”

Flagler first moved to Jacksonville at the advice of his wife’s doctor as she was very ill and the warm climate would suit her well. She died two years after their arrival. Flagler married her care-giver in 1881; they honeymooned in St. Augustine which Flagler found to be a charming city but lacking hotels and infrastructure.

"Replicas of the Medici lions at the Bridge of Lions" by Michael Kagdis via Wikimedia Commons

“Replicas of the Medici lions at the Bridge of Lions” by Michael Kagdis via Wikimedia Commons

Flagler decided to develop the city into a winter resort for wealthy northern elites. The 540-room Ponce de Leon Hotel (now Flagler College) opened in 1887 to immediate acclaim. It was wired for electricity by his friend Thomas Edison.

To service his hotels (plus Hotel Alcazar, 1889, now the Lightner Museum) Flagler bought up several short-line railroads which became Florida East Coast Railway, when some 40 years after construction of the Ponce de León Hotel began, an FECR vice-president would organize a bond issue to build “The Most Beautiful Bridge in Dixie.”

Its construction came at the height of the extravagant Florida land boom of the 1920s, and the bridge is one of its greatest landmarks. It was designed not merely to carry cars, but to be a work of art.

"Bridge of Lions" by Mainstreetmark  via Wikimedia Commons -

“Bridge of Lions” by Mainstreetmark via Wikimedia Commons 

The Bridge of Lions is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It gets its name, of course, from the pair of lions replicating those found at Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence, Italy. The statues were a gift from Dr. David Anderson, who sold Henry Flagler land for the Ponce de Leon Hotel.

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NOTE: St. Augustine celebrates its 450-year Commemoration on September 8th. The city is not calling it a Sesquiquadricentennial, though, as Jacksonville had done in 2012 for the anniversary of the 1562 discovery of Ft. Caroline by Jean Ribault.

Cross-posted at Flipside Florida, again.

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