Mathers Bridge Restaurant Merritt Island Florida

by Mike Miller
(Mount Dora, Florida)

Mathers Bridge Restaurant

Mathers Bridge Restaurant

Mathers Bridge Restaurant
Mathers Bridge Restaurant 1981
Mathers Bridge Waterwheel

The painting above is by Joyce Warner and it's titled "Mathers Bridge Remembered".


The Mathers Bridge Restaurant was near the south end of Merritt Island at the west end of the Mathers Bridge that connects the island to Indian Harbour Beach.

It was destroyed for economic reasons in 1992.

Nothing remains now except for a vacant lot; it is owned by Brevard County and may become a park in the future. The lot is too small for there to ever be another restaurant on the property; it would not be able to meet code for the required number of parking spaces.

The restaurant was a favorite of locals and tourists alike, and operated for 52 years before it finally had to close. The restaurant was Old Florida, with most of its dining taking place out on a wooden deck overlooking the Banana River. The deck was usually shared with raccoons and cats, permanent residents who liked the easy food gathering of the food scraps that fell through the gaps in the deck.

There were only 17 parking spaces in front of the Mathers Bridge Restaurant, so people quite often parked along the road in Indian Harbour Beach and walked across the bridge to reach the place. A lot of other people, including me, used to come by boat and try to grab a berth alongside the rickety dock.

Food was simple but enhanced by the atmosphere. Fish and chips, shrimp baskets, hamburgers, hot dogs, cold beer. It was hard to beat sitting in the sun and enjoying your food and beer and watching the parade of boats churning by and the frequent openings of the Mathers Bridge swing span letting the bigger boats go through.

It wasn't a trendy place like Shooters, where the beautiful people gather to show off their abs and bikinis; it was a family place and attracted an eclectic mix of people: young and old, rich and poor, beautiful and ugly.

The outside walls were decorated in colorful painted murals of fish; the fish were labeled with their biological names as well as the name the fish went by locally. In the early days of the restaurant, the outside of the place was also enhanced with a beat up old waterwheel near the bridge that had no historical significance but looked like it belonged there. The photo above is from a rendering by Malabar artist Lloyd Behrendt.

The residents of south Merritt Island hastened the demise of this restaurant. They did not like the traffic congestion caused by the shortage of parking, and they did not like the sound of music on the deck and the laughter of people having fun. I really don't blame them, but their complaints had political power. The government began doing what it does best; making it harder and harder for the restaurant to survive until it finally had to close.

I first visited Mathers Bridge Restaurant in 1966, and last visited it just before it closed in 1992. So I should stop whining and be thankful for the 26 years I was able to enjoy it. But I can't help wishing it still stood there and was serving those simple meals.

And what happened to the raccoons and cats?

Comments for Mathers Bridge Restaurant Merritt Island Florida

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Oct 31, 2016
I Weep for Your Demise
by: Anonymous

We will never forget your service.

Love, the Coleman's,
68-74...

Oct 08, 2016
Memories of my time spent in Florida
by: Joe S

I moved to FL with my girlfriend after graduating from college in 1980. First purchase was a ski boat. Spent many relaxing afternoons downing pitchers of beer and kielbasa sandwiches on the deck. Tied the boat to the dock to take a break from skiing. I left Florida in 1984 for a better career opportunity. I have had a great 30 years in New England, but fondly remember lounging on the Mathers Bridge deck back in my youth.

Oct 07, 2016
Almost There
by: Displaced cracker

I fondly remember the restaurant and its' waterwheel as a welcoming landmark after driving hours on US-1 from Miami to visit family on Merritt Island as a child. Loved eating there, fishing there with my dad and watching other fishermen.

Definitely an iconic image of Florida from the past!

Aug 24, 2016
Dragon Bay Band
by: Mike Smith

I went there every weekend from 1989 - 1992 for the crab cakes and great entertainment! Anybody know what happened to the Dragon Bay Band when they closed?

Jul 12, 2016
The Joyce Warner Watercolor in This Story
by: Anonymous

Does anyone know if it is possible to purchase a print of the Warner watercolor of Mather's used for this story? If so, please tell me where and how to procure. An internet search yielded nothing. I was born and raised in Brevard (fourth-gen Floridian) and I'd love a print of this wonderful gem of my past. David's Framing in Indian Harbor Beach has a Mather's print but I like the one I see here much better.
Many thanks!
(dearcon@aol.com)

FLORIDA BACKROADS TRAVEL SAYS

Joyce Warner is a founding member of Art and Antique Studio in Eau Gallie. Maybe they can help.Their website is www.artandantiquestudio.com

Jun 27, 2016
Memories
by: Betty Marion Whitman

I remember shrimping on the bridge while in high school at Mel High- fun, a little scarey as it was so narrow with a long handled net and you could feel vehicles crossing it! Great time. And didn't they do hush puppies?

Jun 26, 2016
Lived Close to Restaurant
by: Tom Dillon

I live on a canal just south of the restaurant We would go by boat. Enjoyed the food and atmosphere very much! So sorry to see it close!

Jun 25, 2016
Memories
by: John Casey

I fished off that bridge in the late 1960's for about 10 years.

I remember the sports bar that had all the felt college pendents on the walls and Joe the mina bird that use to greet you when you walked in.

I had the pleasure of playing music with my brothers Jim and Skip out on the deck. The Dragon Bay Band played there until it closed. I remember when Jimmy Buffett stopped by incognito to enjoy a few beers and gave us a thumbs up with our renditions of his island music.

I cooked there with the owner Barbara and her daughter Liz and her sisters. It was an iconic landmark and will forever be missed.

May 30, 2016
Mather's Bridge
by: MARTA

A Sin!!! A wonderful , truly beautiful place that held so many memories, good, honest times for so many people. RUINED.. for What and for Who..

May 26, 2016
Night Launches
by: Night Launches

My Great Gramma and her husband lived in Eau Galle and my Grampa used to take me to do some night fishing off Mather's bridge every time there was a night shot from the space program. My Great Aunt and her husband helped to start the game preserve there ... I definitely had some unique, interesting and sometimes scary times there. (You try staring down a twelve foot gator LOL)

May 06, 2016
Birds?
by: Lori

Were there talking mina birds or parrots there too, or am I confusing that with a memory from another place? Seems you could get them to say "hello" and "pretty boy."

Mar 23, 2016
My Family's Heritage
by: Renee Mathers Peacock

My Great Grandfather, John Mathers built the original Mathers Bridge in 1927 in order to connect the main land to what was then Merritt Island. My grandfather, Roy Mathers and my father, Ralph Mathers have had tons of stories to tell about all of the things that took place on the bridge and at the restaurant over the years.

The Mathers family was one of the original founders of Old Eau Gallie and the families related to us had a strong impact on the area as well. That's why street names in Old Eau Gallie bear my family's names of Mathers St.,McClendon St., and Sinclair St. There's a story behind all of those names and why they were chosen years ago.

I'm proud of my family's heritage and I'm thankful that others benefited and enjoyed that restaurant for so many years.

FLORIDA BACKROADS TRAVEL SAYS

Renee, thanks for sharing your story. It's always great to hear from a member of one of the pioneer families that helped settle and build the Old Florida we love.

Mar 17, 2016
Love at first sight
by: PK

I moved from Wisconsin to Melbourne to work at Florida Today in 1989. The first week on the job Billy Cox, a superb writer and fixture at the newspaper, took me to Mathers to eat white fish and drink beer. We did both with great gusto many, many times over the years.

Mathers was indeed Old Florida, and that's why I loved it so. I only wish I would have bought one of Ed's Heads when I had the chance. I'm back in Wisconsin again. It's a cold, dreary March day.

Thanks for the warm memory.

FLORIDA BACKROADS TRAVEL SAYS

I remember Billy Cox. He and Shelby Strother were my favorite Florida Today writers. I know Shelby passed away, and I think Billy moved on to another newspaper. You have my sympathy. Wisconsin is a beautiful state during the 3 weeks of summer. My home town is one hour north of Green Bay.

Aug 29, 2015
Varnadoe/ Mathers
by: Liz Varnadoe Boone

In the 50s my family would drive down from Winter Garden to the Mathers Bridge and to the Mathers fish camp. My aunt Virginia Webb Mathers lived there with her husband Charles Mathers.

We would fill up a huge galvanized tub with ice and seafood of all kind to take back home with us.

I remember fishing off the bridge. Shrimping with lights at night. Laughter and great times with my cousins and my brothers. If anyone remembers any of these Mathers please reply.

FLORIDA BACKROADS TRAVEL SAYS:

Thanks, Liz. It's great to hear from a member of this historic family. The bridge was built in 1927 by John Mathers to connect south Merritt Island to the mainland in what is now Indian Harbour Beach.

Aug 29, 2015
There is a reason they call it "the good ol' days".
by: Mike W

My Dad was stationed at PAFB in the late 60s and I would ride my bike down to Mathers Bridge to fish. Always caught a trout or two. Of course, those were the days when you could catch trout in the Banana River.

Maybe if we put thousands of more buildings up, let 10 of thousands of new residents in, and allow all the pollution and run off into the lagoon, everything will be alright.

Growth, it cures what ails ya'.

FLORIDA BACKROADS TRAVEL SAYS:

It's really sad. The Banana River in the 60s was very clear and so were the canals just south of the bridge near the Eau Gallie Yacht Club. The population of Brevard County in 1950 was only 23,000 souls spread over the entire county. Then along came the space program that created a huge demand for housing. Now there are more than 540,000 people in the county. I hope the Banana and Indian Rivers can be saved.

Aug 12, 2015
Shrimping
by: Cheryl Robinson Williams

I remember shrimping off the bridge in the late 60's with my boyfriend from PAFB. We were looking over the edge at our net and his glasses fell right into the shrimp net. That was quite a catch and a memory

Jul 16, 2015
Restaurant memories
by: Anonymous

I lived in the rentals with my mom and brother back in the early 60's and have many memories. I remember Donna and the whole family. I remember Luke's favorite song on the juke box was "they're gonna put me in the movies". Many great times were had there by many people. And I definitely remember the raccoons;know I have a picture of them somewhere.

FLORIDA BACKROADS TRAVEL SAYS:

Thanks for great memories from someone who actually lived in the rental units overlooking the Indian River. That end of Merritt Island has never been the same since the restaurant and rentals got torn down. I wonder where the raccoons went?

Oct 13, 2014
question
by: james

Does anyone know what the name of a seafood restaurant was that was located kinda in a culdesac near Titusville or somewhere near that area and they had acrylic tabletops with small fish and seashells and starfish in them that you could see while you wait on your food?

FLORIDA BACKROADS TRAVEL SAYS;

Sorry for this late response. What comes to my mind is Sand Point. It was a seafood restaurant on the point of land just north of the Titusville Marina. It was started by rock shrimp pioneer and boatbuilder Rodney Thompson. I remember those acrylic seafood tables. Sand Point is long gone; I think the same family now owns Dixie Crossroads.

Oct 12, 2014
Wonderful memories
by: Carol Hollifield

WE moved from N,C.in 1965 To Merritt Island and rented a house on SouthTropical Trail right on the Banana River.Our house was the first house facing the road south of the Hacienda Del Sol property.We love so Tropical Trail and the Mathers Bridge and Restaurant.My husband and boys loved to go down there at night and shrimp.I would also take my boys down there to fish.They have good memories of that area.


Oct 12, 2014
I miss it too
by: Lyn Chilton

Friends and I would set out from Cocoa Beach and go the long way~ A1A to 520 for the scenic drive down Tropical Trail~ just to sit on the deck and do exactly as you described. Or, on a few occasions, boat down the river.

It was legendary in its own time; anytime someone was going to Mathers Bridge, I'd grab the chance and tag along! Thanks for the memories, especially of the critters! I had forgotten about them. It was a sad day when they shut it down. I kept hoping it wasn't going to be torn down because it took so long to happen.

I wonder if anyone besides me remembers the hand-written sign posted across the street, on the side of that little building. It said

"NO VEHICKLES ALLOWED"


I always imagined Ernest T. Bass - from the old Mayberry show with Sheriff Andy Griffith - as having written it, and I can still hear him saying it.

Jun 21, 2014
Precious Memories
by: james

I lived in Eau Gallie and my mom would take me to Mathers Bridge and drop me off to fish many many times. I would drop my line down beside the pilings and catch drum and sheepshead. This was around 1962 or so.

I can't remember for sure as I am now 65 with Type 2 diabetes and I was around 14 or so back then. I thank GOD for the precious times and memories with my MOM and stepdad. I would give almost anything to go back in time and make many changes after FLORIDA in my life.

I would get saved earlier in life and live for JESUS. Im originally from Valdese,N.C. I used to fish from the Eau Gallie causeway bridge also.

I lived off Aurora Road. GOD BLESS YOU ALL!!!

Apr 15, 2014
Memories
by: Bill Teel

My parents moved to Florida in the late 70's. They lived in the apartments right across the river. They could see the restaurant from their apartment. My mom and my nephew actually worked there part time for a while. There used to be a guy that carved Tiki heads right there on the deck... Ed's Heads they were called. That place was sooo cool that was my hang out whenever I visited my parents. Walk there eat drink and fish from the bridge then walk back. Tropical Trail was great bike ride with a great restaurant at the end.

MISS IT BIG TIME

Feb 02, 2014
Great Memories Here
by: Charlie Walker

I haven't lived in Brevard county since 1989, but this was one of my favorite places. My Dad used to go there and enjoy a beer, and I still remember the foot long hotdogs. Too bad The Powers That Be decided it had to go. Thanks for sharing this.

Jan 12, 2014
Uncle Luke!
by: Anonymous

Hi...yes...Luke was my uncle! My mom is Dorothy, his sister.

Jan 11, 2014
Remembering
by: Jana Endres

Met my husband, Dale Barker, over there when his dad Luke & Mom Dallas ran cabins & restaurant in the 50's & 60's. Dallas was a wonderful cook....remember mynah birds well...man, could they do some talking!! LOL. Luke's name is still down by waterwheel spelled out in shells...great place for good food, relaxing & visiting with everyone.....


Jan 01, 2014
Mathers Information
by: Anonymous

I could surely do that with the information and stories. My father spent a lot of time there with his grandfather while he was growing up. His father was Joseph William Mathers, Jr.,who died in the Battle of the Bulge, over in Germany. I will get with him and post some information. He loves telling stories from his time there.

Dec 10, 2013
Water Wheel
by: MJ

The info about the reason for the water wheel being built is so interesting and so logical. I always wondered if there was a reason for it other than the fun aesthetics of it.

I'm assuming with the name Mathers you probably have more info about the whole place than most of us! It would be wonderful to read more.

Dec 10, 2013
Wheel Location
by: Donna

It was right next to the restaurant front entrance. It may not look that way in the pictures. As soon as you exited the front entrance the wheel was on the right.

Dec 10, 2013
The Old Water Wheel
by: Marcy Mathers

I was just talking to my father (Joe Mathers)about the water wheel, and he said his uncle Roy (Mathers) built the water wheel, and it was designed to aerate the two big shrimp boxes in case the power to it went out.

Nov 24, 2013
Mather's photos
by: MJ

Thanks so much, they are wonderful! Somehow I had the waterwheel in the wrong place in my memories, closer to the restaurant, good to have that readjusted to reality!

Nov 24, 2013
Pix of Restaurant, Cabins, and Waterwheel
by: Anonymous

Hello,

I located the pictures of the restaurant, cabins, and waterwheel. I don't know how to upload the pictures to this site. If anyone would like to see the pix then send an email to donnalewis1999@yahoo.com and I will be happy to send them to you.

donna

Nov 13, 2013
Please email photos of the waterwheel to me also...
by: Tod McNeal

Would love to see these photos of this oft heard of yet not seen in a very long time waterwheel!!!!

Nov 05, 2013
Thanks, Donna!
by: MJ

Donna, I'm jealous! We were around the bridge a lot but not so much the restaurant and cabins except to walkabout. The cabins always fascinated me, it was like a whole life there that none of us saw! Watching the dolphin from the pilings, climbing all over that thing, it would never happen now.
Thanks for looking for the photos, much appreciated. Things like this make me very thankful for my Dad, who taught us so much, right there. I wish he was around to share this with him now.

Nov 05, 2013
Pix of waterwheel
by: Anonymous

Hi Mike,

I will dig for the picture of the waterwheel and see if I can scan it. Might be a few days before I can get to it but I will see what I can find. Sounds like you had a great experience at the bridge. I remember the bridge being cranked open for large boats. I used to fish on the docks located on the shore between the restaurant and the bridge.....below/behind the waterwheel. I fell in the river soooo many times. I knew every inch of that restaurant, the cabins, the house trailer next to the restaurant, the bridge...all of it. I left no stone unturned!

donna

Nov 05, 2013
Water Wheel
by: MJ

I lived in IHB and practically lived on Mather's bridge. Fishing, shrimping, my first date, opening the bridge (yes, we got to do that, it was different back then) - maybe 8 kids pushing the big crank that went into the middle, dangling our legs off the sides...the water wheel mermaid being the first 'naked breasts' the boys had seen, outside of a National Geographic. The fish camp, the restaurant. I'm glad I moved before the bridge was replaced. Such a wonderful way to grow up!

Donna, who commented above, I'd LOVE (and I'm sure others would as well) to see your photos of the water wheel! If you can't post them here could you send them via email to me at caribemj (at) gmail.com ?

Sep 09, 2013
Ummm, wrong bridge.
by: Pam Crytzer Carr

My previous comments I was confusing Mathers Bridge with Barge Canal bridge. Its what happens when you get old. LOL

I did however bike the trail with my dad from Satellite Beach over the Mathers bridge all the way up the trail to Sunny Acres where my dad was looking at a house that we bought shortly there after. That was back in the early or mid 60s. We did stop at restaurant both going there are coming back. Longest bike ride I ever.

The restaurant was also a regular stop as a teenager heading to Sebastian Inlet for fishing, clamming, diving and whatever other things we could get up to back then. Loved those talking birds.

Sep 08, 2013
Biker Day at Mathers Restaurant!
by: Debbie

My good friend Judy and I were in Jr. High at Edgewood in '66. We rode our bikes from our houses in Catalina Isles - behind MIHS - all the way to Mathers to have lunch. Man-oh-man were we ever in for a rude awakening to realize how far it really was on a bike. It was probably 99* and we were exhausted and hot. Lunch was divine, drinks were ice cold, and we loved every minute of it! I have never forgotten that little excursion...I can still taste the fish sandwich and smell the aromas wafting about me. The only bad part was the realization that we had to then ride all the way back home. Amazing that we made it!!

Sep 02, 2013
boating
by: Sharon Robins

as a little girl, and while boating with the family, on a number of occassions we would find ourselves docking, and up the ramp for one of those delicious meals. My favorite was the hamburger, simple but tasty. Can't find one made like that today.

Aug 31, 2013
Slaw burgers
by: Val

My parents would take us there in the mid-70's for slaw burgers, one of their specialties. Delish!

Aug 31, 2013
Slaw burgers
by: Val

My parents would take us there in the mid-70's for slaw burgers, one of their specialties. Delish!

Aug 31, 2013
Lunching at the restaurant
by: Pam Crytzer/Carr

Mid to late 60s we used to walk over the bridge to the restaurant from what was Trails End Stable on the other side of the canal just to have lunch or soda. Fond memories for me.

FLORIDA BACKROADS TRAVEL says: maybe you are thinking of Tingley's Fish Camp on the barge canal. Great place; I'm sad it's gone too.

Aug 05, 2013
I lived there in 1964-1966
by: Donna

My family members managed the restaurant during 1964 to 1966. I have pictures of the waterwheel with the mermaid. I got stung under my eye by a red wasp because I stuck my head under the patio. I fell in the river while fishing for blowfish, I got splinters in my fingers from trying to climb the banana trees, I got hit by a car on the curve in front of the rental cabins. I loved this place! I wouldn't let the juke box guy take my song off the juke box which was "These Boots are Made for Walking'I I was six to eight years old. It was great!!!

donna

FLORIDA BACKROADS TRAVEL SAYS

Hey Donna, thanks for sharing those great memories. It sounds like the pleasure far outweighed the pain!

Jun 30, 2013
Another 'Gone With The Wind' Establishment
by: Greg May

Like Marineland and Ronnie's, we now have another well-loved and remembered establishment to reminisce about.

Jun 30, 2013
I loved that place!
by: Nancy Miller

What a well written description of the Mathers Bridge Restaurant! I remember sitting there on that deck way back in the 70's with Cherie Down, a Marine Biologist, and snacking on fried shrimp and drinking cold beer. The shrimp tails were given to the resident felines lolling about.

Cherie could comment on anything having to do with Florida waters and vegetation....indeed, we had just been wading in the Banana River taking photos of the Mangroves along the shoreline. She was on a mission to preserve the mangroves and was assembling pictures of the magnificent trees and root systems for her project. She had me digging in the river bottom with my bare toes and I can remember pulling up clams and eating them right on the spot! Seriously!

I won't say life was better back then, but I will say that day in 1978 is etched in my memory, and sitting on the deck at Mathers Bridge topped it off!

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