The Mathews Bridge

Written by Cleve Powell
Originally published in the July 2007 edition of the OAI Newsletter

Cost: $11 million. Length: 7,375 feet, Width 58′ Vertical clearance 149.5′ Channel width 711′ Type: Cantilever Steel Truss.

The Mathews Bridge opened for traffic on Wednesday, 10:00 A.M., April 15th, 1953, and I remember driving over it that afternoon after school in my ‘35 Ford, which was an adventure as it had mechanical brakes. In my opinion this was the end of “Old Arlington” and the beginning of “Arlington Anticipated” as described in the 1924 Arlington Community Club booklet. The Arlington Community Club held a Bridge BBQ on Saturday. April 18th as a celebration, and according to my grandmother’s diary, all the meat was gone by the time I got off from working for builder Raymond Sage.

The efforts that were made to have this bridge built by Florida Representative John E. Mathews reportedly went back 20 years, and it was named for him before construction started on May 17, 1950. Mathews’ efforts would have started about the time the Arlington Ferry first closed before reopening in 1940. Governor Fuller Warren appointed Mathews to the State Supreme Court in 1955, and he became Chief Justice, serving for nearly 20 years after the bridge opened.

Historian Bill Foley had an article in the Times-Union on March 8, 1999, entitled “Millennium Moment March 9, 1950.” In Mr. Foley’s article, the bridge was only a part of a whole new expressway system in Jacksonville – as well as parking for downtown – and would eventually tie in I-95 and I-10s passage through Jacksonville. But as Foley’s article indicated, it wasn’t easy. The Arlington Community Club formed the “Arlington Bridge Boosters Association” and handed out membership cards in 1946. My Grandmother Johnson’s diary had an entry July 16, 1946 “Outlook for bridge poor”, then on July 22nd. “C.J. (Cleve Johnson) attending a bridge meeting at Community Club tonight.”

Then in 1949 on Mar. 3 in her diary: “C.J. went to town and came home with groceries all pepped up with a test trip to be made tomorrow for bridge business.” Then on Mar. 4th: “L.B. J. (“Sarah” Louise Bruce-Johnson) stayed in car by Arlington River bridge while C.J. made bridge test run planned yesterday.” As I remember it, there was a race from the Arlington River bridge to downtown. My grandfather (C.J.) and some others took a boat to downtown and someone else drove by way of Atlantic Boulevard to show how much quicker it was to go across the river than through South Jacksonville.

Construction of the bridge and expressway on the Arlington side of the river brought a few new families into Arlington to work on the bridge and also opened up the woods between Mill Creek Road and Arlington Road. All the dirt roads we used to go to the Oakwood Villa area were blocked. Red Bay Branch was temporarily dammed up and flooding conditions must have been similar to the days of the mill pond 100 years earlier.

New small and large subdivisions sprang to life in Arlington even before the bridge was funded. The Tanglewood subdivision was platted 10-19-1945 by the Hulls on University just south of the proposed expressway. I remember when they paved the street with asphalt as it gave us kids a place to rollerskate. Next to Tanglewood was Lockwood’s subdivision, which was platted in 1946 by Langdon Lockwood, and ended up being right beside the expressway access ramp creating business sites, including Dr. Wilcox’s office.

A larger group, River Forest Unit 1 was platted 10-31-1949 by F. L. Fort and O. Roy Dickson, from Chaseville Road to River Bluff Road next to the Arlington Heights Subdivision of 1913. This was one of the first new large subdivisions where a builder built houses to sell rather than selling the lots. The houses were sold with almost no landscaping and I used to plant grass for the new owners (runners) for $2 for the front yard. River Forest was expanded several times. Lake Lucina Unit 1 was platted 8-29-1950 by Cesery and Liddell located on the east side of Chaseville Road near Floral Bluff Road. It also featured custom-built homes and expanded several times. Arlington Manor was platted April 8, 1952 by Frank Ubile (and L. Pierce) and featured very affordable homes. They were located on the corner of Rogero and Lone Star behind the cemetery. These are a few of the many developments that were probably brought to Arlington by the Mathews Bridge.

The bridge and expressway gave Arlington shorter access to downtown Jacksonville, Imeson Airport, the zoo and the Gator Bowl, and also a quicker route to the beach. It also brought shopping centers and a theater to Arlington (it also provided an outhouse that “someone” stole and burned at the Crossroads one Halloween).

For years the “Colcord” house set at the foot of the bridge on the south side of the toll booths. It was torn down in the mid sixties to make way for apartments. I didn’t realize until we did the Steeves-Jaques interview that that had been the Eggleston Hotel and had been moved from its original location by barge from the foot of Floral Bluff road to its new home on the river. I often admired the elegant two story home in the afternoons when I came home from working in town. If we only had a picture!

The Mathews Bridge was a toll bridge until Mayor Tommy Hazouri (87-91) removed all the tolls from Jacksonville’s bridges. I’m sure that the Mathews Bridges tolls paid for a lot of State Road Department improvements before the toll was lifted. Isn’t it interesting that that the new “Exodermic Deck” being installed in place of the grating at a cost of $12.9 million, exceeds the cost of the original bridge.