It was one of the longest bridges in the world. It was practically named the Magic Carpet. This is what rather you no know about Tampa Bay’s above bridge.

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The original Sunshine Skyway Bridge opened to the public 66 years ago today, linking the broke up Tampa Bay an ar together and also transforming the west shore of Florida.

The $22-million Skyway extended from St. Pete’s Maximo allude at the finish of 34th Street S to Terra Ceia Island to U.S. 41 in Manatee County. At the time, it to be the longest unbroken leg in the U.S. And also one of the longest in the world.


1954 AP photograph of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. In the photo is a dedication motorcade together it the cross the main expectations after officially opening the world"s longest prestressed concrete bridge. < St. Petersburg time >

The then-St. Petersburg Times celebrated by printing a thick special section that weighed five pounds and contained about 330 articles and 460 pictures. The Sept. 6, 1954 front page story called it “the work they pulled the cork top top Pinellas County’s bottleneck the a quarter century.”


Front page of the St. Petersburg time September 6, 1954. < St. Petersburg times >

The original Sunshine Skyway

Before the Skyway, St. Petersburg was an isolated, sleepy fishing town. To access it indigenous the south, travelers could take the bee Line Ferry, though just one to two thousand cars can reportedly make it throughout each day. The only method to drive to St. Petersburg native the southern was to take it U.S. 41 phibìc from Manatee to Hillsborough, then drive across the Gandy Bridge.

For 3 decades, people kicked about the dream of utilizing a tunnel or bridge to cross the bay. And for three decades, plenty of said it can not be done.

When the original Skyway was built, it had one span and two lanes. In 1971, traffic prompted building and construction of a second span transferring southbound motorists west of the original span.


Aerial check out of development on Sunshine Skyway"s pair bridge, looking south. < BERNIE ORAM | St. Petersburg times >

The Skyway wasn’t simply a means to make things less complicated for locals. It opened up the Pinellas and also Manatee beaches to travelers, said historian Bill DeYoung, writer of “Skyway: The True Story of Tampa Bay’s Signature Bridge and also the man Who brought it Down."


Snapped just prior to their convertible joined others in the procession across Sunshine Skyway shortly after opening ceremonies yesterday were 2 attractive wives of influential Floridians. Top top the left is Mrs. Courtney Campbell, wife of the U. S. Representative. With her is Mrs. Spessard Holland, mam of the U.S. Senator. < employee | St. Petersburg times >

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Naming the Skyway

The St. Pete small Chamber of Commerce and also what to be then-called the State roadway Department held a nationwide naming contest. In just a month, more than 20,000 entries flooded in from every state ― and also even Canada. A dashboard of local judges sifted with each submission.

Entries weren’t allowed to reference geographic regions or surname of people. Significant rejects included the Magic Carpet, Loveland Span, Pearly Gates, the Glory Road, Alladin’s Ramp and the Garden of Eden.

Eleven the the optimal 20 finalists contained the prefix “sun." The jogger up: Suncoast Skyline.

The to win name came from Indian Rocks beach resident Virginia Seymour, the owner that Gulf Ranch Resort. 3 days prior to the bridge opened, Seymour was provided a plaque, an engraved watch and a paint of the bridge at the Coliseum’s Sunshine Skyway Dedication Ball held on Sept. 3, 1954.

J.C. And Virginia Seymour at the Dedication round Sept. 3, 1954 at the St. Petersburg Coliseum. < Tampa Bay times >

The day the Skyway opened

The Sunshine Skyway was celebrated the weekend before the grand opening. < Times records >

A cool opening awareness christening the Sunshine Skyway leg took place early in St. Petersburg top top the morning of Sept. 6, 1954. Ice cream and also soda sellers lined the streets and dignitaries and politicians gathered to speak. Ten “bridge beauties,” representing 10 counties along Florida’s west coast, took a turn adding oversized counties into a enormous Florida map.

Acting branch Charley Johns identified the new bridge as "a mighty and also majestic monument to the cooperative spirit of man" as he officially opened the Sunshine Skyway bridge to the public in St. Petersburg ceremonies. < UNKNOWN | St. Petersburg time >

Then, the motorcade started: at 9:25 a.m., 500 dare lined up to drive indigenous the Pinellas next of the bridge and paraded across the Skyway because that the an initial time. A dozen planes and also two helicopters flew end the triumphant inaugural drive.

When the motorcade make it to Bradenton on the other side, they held the opening ceremony all over again.

Helicopter files over main expectancy of Sunshine Skyway opened day. Photo shows exactly how bridge zooms up from method level come 150.5 feet above water as it the cross Tampa Bay ship channel. < employee | St. Petersburg times >

“It to be a wonderful, thrilling experience,” created Times reporter Tom Harris. “The type of a point that happens only once in a lifetime, and was fine worth the effort of rolling out of bed at 8.a.m."

M.C. Fountain, neighborhood printing shop operator, to be the only human being of color holding a 1949 Spans celebration switch which entitled him to overcome the Sunshine Skyway in the distinct section booked for the holders. < employee | St. Petersburg time >

After the motorcade, the bridge was opened up to the public. Tolls to be suspended indigenous 11 a.m. Come 11 p.m. Top top that very first day.

Harold K. Moser, 4942 sixth Ave. S., St., Petersburg, offers $1.75 to Mrs. Rosemary Cason, Sunshine Skyway toll-taker, to it is in the first person crossing the big bridge after ~ 11 o"clock free-admission deadline critical night. < staff | St. Petersburg time >

Toll operator counted 15,086 car on that first day. More than 50,000 human being were estimated to have journeyed across the leg that day, whether they talk in buses and trucks or biked and also walked across.

September 1954Two lines of car cross end the Sunshine Skyway in the opened ceremonies on labor Day 1954.BRIDGES :, SUNSHINE SKYWAY : DEDICATION, official CEREMONIES < employee | St. Petersburg times >

“People that never before had to be to Palmetto, Bradenton, Sarasota or St. Petersburg gained acquainted v these cities yesterday because that the an initial time and an excellent neighborliness reigned,” created Harris.

Hundreds of watercrafts gathered around the bridge to memory in the blue waters the the bay. The Aquamaniacs Ski club performed a water ballet. There was a dance at the Bradenton Municipal Pier and the miss out on Sunshine Skyway pageant was hosted at Anna Maria Island.

Even the punishment Line Ferry got a distinct sendoff as it make its final run that night.

Rica Diallina, miss Greece, hand a replica that the Sunshine Skyway to exhilaration Gov. Charley Johns at the bridge opening ceremonies top top the St. Petersburg side. Johns inserted the bridge in the center of the map of Florida"s West coastline (in rear) linking the 10 counties together. The counties - Citrus, Hernando, Pasco, Hillsborough, Pinellas, Manatee, Sarasota, Charlotte, Lee, and Collier - were represented by Skyway princesses, each wearing a glowing red bathing suit. < TRABANT, GEORGE | St. Petersburg times >

It wasn’t every fun, though. Tampa’s David Carpenter had the unfortunate respect of gift the an initial to obtain a flat tire top top the Skyway, and also Tampa leg worker Richard F. Spivey was connected in the an initial accident. Those misfortunes come after a long wait to acquire on the bridge.

North the the Skyway, web traffic stopped completely as thousands satellite in their cars on 34th Street and Tangerine and Lakeview Avenues, waiting for their revolve to take it the historic drive. Cars donate up in Manatee County as well.

In the Times, Lowell Brandle composed in a obelisk that it was “the greatest traffic jam in the background of Pinellas and Manatee counties."

At a top rate of an ext than 1,300 cars per hour, web traffic crossed the world"s longest pre emphasize concrete bridge, extending Tampa bay to attach Florida"s west coast together. Take trip was complimentary until 11 p.m. < staff | St. Petersburg time >
It was July 1954, two months prior to the initial Sunshine Skyway opened and Rube Allyn might smell a good story. With photographer Bob Moreland right behind him, snapping pictures came to be the an initial to cross the 15 mile bridge from finish to end. < UNKNOWN | St. Petersburg times >4,100,000 cubic yards that sand were dredged to kind the causeways. This would have actually been sufficient to cover fifty percent of Pass-a-Grille.12,104,000 pounds of structural stole and 8,536,700 pounds the reinforcing stole were provided to build the Skyway, and also 115,980 cubic yards the concrete.$21,250,000 were gave from a revenue bond concern from the State advancement commission.544 human being worked ~ above the bridge.11 of the Skyway’s 15 miles to be suspended over water.5 bridges linked together 6 sections.2 lanes were top top the original solitary span bridge. There was no passing.45 mph was the maximum speed limit. The minimum rate was 35 mph.3 counties bridged: The Skyway crossed through Pinellas, Hillsborough and Manatee counties.$1.75 was the original toll for a solitary passenger auto making a one-way trip. Pedestrians and bicyclists payment a 50-cent toll.
A lone candle adorns the very first anniversary cake because that the Sunshine Skyway. Here, Burr Baird, baker at Nagel"s Bakery, place on finishing touches. An ext than a million civilization crossed the Skyway because its opening a year prior. < MORELAND, BOB | St. Petersburg time >

A terrifying drive

The Skyway cross begins and the motorcade pauses half way increase the main expectancy to give dignitaries a opportunity to look earlier over s Sunshine Skyway open to traffic. < staff | St. Petersburg times >

Tom Harris wrote that the ride was thrilling, especially ascending the rise up come the 150.5-foot high facility span.

“This is more delightful for Floridians than anyone else because Florida has few respectable hills in its entirety area," the wrote. “To journey a car over sea level was something natives, uneven they live close to Brooksville or Tallahassee, said they had never skilled before.”

The 5-degree incline conjured a feeling of going up a roller coaster, said historian Bill DeYoung.

“You’d walk up so sluggish up the side through this emotion of dread learning you would go really fast down the various other side,” he said. "You couldn’t view anything — it to be so steep.”

Drivers would white-knuckle approximately the highest possible point, where the roadway turned to metal grating. Then come the low rumble that tires thumping end the bumps. During the day, passengers could look under though the grate in ~ churning waves splashing below.

At night came complete darkness. There to be no lamp on the initial bridge.

“That sense of, ‘I’m really the end here, i’m hurtling despite the universe all alone and also I’m 150 feet end the water,’" stated DeYoung. “Yeah, it was a small terrifying.”

The initial Skyway’s flaws were exposed to devastating effect 25 years, eight months and three work later.

The freighter Summit Venture, blinded through a storm, crashed into the bridge’s support columns at 7:33 a.m. On may 9, 1980. A 1,200-foot expectancy of the southbound bridge fell down into the bay, and also 35 civilization lost their lives.

The 1980 catastrophe rendered that expectations unusable. Driving on the continuing to be northbound expectations would come to be even more nerve-wracking.

“You look over and also there’s the damaged bridge ideal here," DeYoung said. “It was this painful reminder of what happened, like ‘There yet for the elegant of God walk I."”

A motorcade that excited vehicle drivers make the an initial public cross of the brand-new Sunshine Skyway bridge on Sept. 6, 1954. The engineering marvel was the pride of building superintendent Arthur Goodale. < FLORIDA ARCHIVES | Tampa Tribune >

Over 400 members that the “I Love St. Pete” Facebook group shared your memories the the bridge. Few of the submissions:

Kevin Waters: “I to be a son going over that thing and it to be by much the scariest bridge I’ve ever been over. The was called the skyway because that a reason and also you literally felt choose you were going into the sky.”Debbie Barnard: “I remember mine dad taking us for a journey over and back, just for the fun of it! One time, in ~ night, he turned off the headlights simply as we reached the grating! fear the crap the end of me and my brother!!”Janet Schultz Helmick: “Was always scared as a child as soon as going end the bridge since you might not check out the other side. I was constantly afraid that would finish at the top. The many eerie time, though, to be after the wreck. I remained in high school and we were driving in a school bus to a video game in Sarasota. Seeing the various other side that the bridge ... And then no ... Sent chills down my spine!”Annee Marin: “Oh my, so numerous memories! mine grandfather, who was a Greek immigrant, supplied to take my small brother and also I tomato picking in Ruskin via the Skyway. Grandpa would always make one adventure that it and bellow, “Is anyone happy?” when his 1962 Studebaker got to the span, to which we would respond merrily, “Yeah!” as a native Floridian, the will always be among my favourite childhood memories!”Suzanne Marsh: “I always loved going end bridges and remember the sound the the grates when driving over. Also remember control over and also looking at the lost part of the bridge and also the water below. I was too young to it is in driving then and also had time to yes, really look. The was disastrous sight. Remember where I was once I heard the news too.”

The new Skyway

Construction ~ above a major portion that the Sunshine Skyway leg in 1986. < ERIC MENCHER | St. Petersburg times >
Construction briefly stopped on the phibìc pier of the Sunshine Skyway bridge in 1986 while state Officials and the span"s building and construction contractor made decision the following step in correcting a roadway misalignment. < TONY LOPEZ | St. Petersburg time >

A brand-new bridge opened seven year after the disaster. If the Skyway us use now is a much various bridge, its name still conjures memories of the 1980 Skyway disaster.

The new Skyway hulked over the original bridge, peaking in ~ 430 feet tall. About 60,000 vehicles drive over it every day. It remains among the most iconic regional landmarks in the area.

The newer Sunshine Skyway leg that is provided today, left, stands alongside the old bridge prior to it was turned into a fishing pier. < Morris the Selbypic >

The Tampa Theatre will organize the premiere the a new documentary, “The Skyway bridge Disaster,” top top Sept. 15. Following year will note the 40th anniversary of the tragedy.

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“That bridge is ours mountain,” said chronicler Will Michaels. “It’s the highest point in the totality area below in Tampa Bay.”

Aerial check out of the Sunshine Skyway bridge October 31, 2006. < LARA CERRI | St. Petersburg times >

Times an elderly news researcher man Martin contributed to this report, i m sorry uses material compiled from times archives.

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