The Old Wabasso Bridge Finds a New Home at Walt Disney World

by Mike Miller
(Mount Dora, Florida)

The Old Wabasso Swing Bridge

The Old Wabasso Swing Bridge

The Old Wabasso Swing Bridge
The New Wabasso Bridge Across Indian River Lagoon
New Wabasso Bridge Built in 1970

Disney's Vero Beach Resort opened in 1995 on Orchid Island just south of the road to the Wabasso Bridge. I wonder how many of the guests enjoying their stay in Indian River County know the historical link that Disney has to Wabasso? It is a link that dates back to the years just before Walt Disney World was completed.


Walt Disney World opened near Orlando in October 1971. The Magic Kingdom theme park is located in the northern region of Disney's huge acreage at the north end of a large artificial lagoon. Ferries transport guests from the main entrance complex across the lagoon to a landing near the end of Main Street. The ferries need to be hauled out of the water from time to time for servicing, so Disney built a boat yard to take care of their sizable navy. This boat servicing area is tucked away in the back side of the Magic Kingdom, out of sight of the tourists.

In 1970 the Magic Kingdom was under construction, including a small gauge railroad whose tracks encircled the theme park. This little train would become known as the Main Street Railroad. The railroad design included a draw bridge over a canal leading from the lagoon to the boat yard. The bridge would be opened whenever the ferries needed to be moved through the canal to the service area.

Disney's engineers heard about an old swing bridge near Vero Beach which was going to be scrapped. They decided to take a look at the bridge to see if it could be used instead of designing and building a brand new one.

The old Wabasso Bridge was built in 1927 and crossed the Indian River Lagoon between the small town of Wabasso on the mainland and Orchid Island north of Vero Beach. In the late sixties the Florida Department of Transportation was about to replace this old swing bridge with a modern high rise concrete model. Disney sent over its engineers to take a look at the old silver painted relic, which DOT intended to scrap as soon as the new one was completed.

The steel bridge beams and girders were antiques, and were no longer being made by the steel mills. The names of hundreds of boats had been scratched into the tired old bridge trusses by the pen knives of lonely bridge tenders over the many years the bridge stood sentinel over the river. Many of the structural members were badly rusted and pitted, and some were corroded completely through. Still, after careful inspection, the Disney engineers decided they could salvage the old bridge.

They decided to buy it and use it at Disney World rather than building a new one. They bought it from DOT and had it cut up into smaller sections. The whole collection of old bridge parts was then loaded on barges and towed to a shipyard on the other side of the state in Tampa. There it was rebuilt to Disney's high quality standards at great expense.

The bridge sections were then trucked from Tampa down Interstate 4 to Disney World and reassembled over the canal on the route of the Main Street Railroad. The completely restored bridge looked very little like the old original, except for its general shape. Only Disney knows for sure whether this imaginative venture saved money or not. The Imagineers may have been more interested in saving an old bridge than in saving money.

Millions of happy tourists from every corner of the world have ridden on the Main Street Railroad since Disney World opened in 1971. It is unlikely many of them are aware of the history of the old bridge. And that history is the link Disney has to Wabasso.

Many of the Disney guests now have the opportunity to ride over two Wabasso bridges: the old and the new.

Comments for The Old Wabasso Bridge Finds a New Home at Walt Disney World

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Jul 11, 2017
Cain Family
by: Jerry Allen

I lived on Main street in Micco and had and still have numerous family in the area. Most are the Cains with my Grandmother and Grandfather Dempsey and Leila Cain. Spent a lot of time at the Wabasso Beach and had friends on Jungle Trail just across the bridge.

My family is the Allens from Main Street in Micco.

Jun 08, 2017
50's, 60's and 70's
by: Jackie Atha Schreur

We would visit my parents, Margaret and Ken Atha, always in March. Our two sons were with us. We went over the bridge many times going to the beach and usually were the only ones on the beach ! We were the "snowbirds" down from northern Michigan and it was very enjoyable on the beach rather than the cold weather back up north. When we headed back to my parents house we would stop for fresh orange juice at Hale's. What wonderful memories we have.

FLORIDA BACKROADS TRAVEL SAYSI remember Ken Atha from the 1970s. He had a real estate office on US-1 just north of the Sebastian River.


May 22, 2017
Future Husband
by: Sherrie Sikes Sloan

I was raised in Fellsmere Florida. Growing up, we would go over the bridge to go to the beach in the summertime most every weekend. Also, when I was a child, we had friends/relatives that came down from Georgia to visit and we would always take them to the Wabasso bridge to fish.

One time, my future husband (didn't know it at the time) ran out onto the bridge as it was starting to turn. We all hollered to him to get off before it went too far, but he stayed on. We told him when he got back that he could go to jail for doing that, he didn't care. But, it never happened.

I also enjoyed hearing the boards move going over it. Sometimes thought it might break down and we would fall in! There again, that didn't happen.

May 22, 2017
Old Orchid Island Post Office
by: Kevin Bearden

I lived with my uncle on Orchid Island for a couple of years back in 1973-74..we lived in the old post office that was on the Indian River on Deerfield Grove property, as my uncle was the manager of most of the groves on Orchid Island at the time.

We were located just a fourth mile from the east end of the Intracoastal bridge that goes over to the island from Wabasso. How many times I walked from Orchid Island to Wabasso to visit my friend, Tom Chatam, who worked at the packing company there in Wabasso.

I had the distinction of being the caretaker for one of Rev Billy Graham's groves, which was managed by the company my uncle worked for.

Great times. A wonderful time to be alive!

May 21, 2017
Aunt Bonnie and the old bridge.
by: Chip Meadows

Back in the 1960's I would come to Vero from Boca Raton to see my relatives. My Aunt Bonnie would take my cousins to the beach, and come back over the old bridge. We would go fast over the old wood bridge and we would scream as we went over the bridge then we all would laugh till it hurt.

May 21, 2017
Wabasso
by: Eula Helpling

I remember shrimping off that bridge with my brother back in the late 50s early 60s. And when we get tired we would go down underneath the bridge and take a nap because there was no danger back then.

Many many fires reported on that bridge and at my home where I lived along US 1 we could hear the boards clapping every time someone went over the bridge and we could hear the crash when someone went off the bridge.

We do have a Facebook page growing up in Wabasso if anyone would like to join.

I would love to hear more history about the bridge and Wabasso in general as we are trying to maintain the feel of Wabasso as a small town.

I was raised here, went to school here, and still live here. So please share your memories

May 19, 2017
Bouncing across the old Wabasso bridge
by: Phyllis Waddell Horner

I remember back in the 50's when my grandparents, Beckett and Ruby Waddell would load up all the grandchildren in the back of Granddaddy's truck for a trip to Wabasso beach.

We all got to sit on inner tubes (for safety- lol!) and we bounced our way across the old bridge, screaming and laughing. Sometimes we'd bounce so high, we'd be totally in the air. I don't know which was louder - the crazy boards of the bridge or the raucous laughter of all the little Waddell's!

Such a fun time to have grown up here in Vero!

May 18, 2017
Loved that old bridge
by: Albert Stout

Grew up in wabasso. Loved that old bridge thought many times it would fall in but it did not lol

May 18, 2017
Love for Wabasso
by: Thomas Carruthers

I was born on Orchid Island in July 1931 in a little old white house that was there. My Dad, Robert L. Carruthers was the bridge tender there for years from about 1928 to sometime in the late 1930s.

I use to love that old bridge - I left Wabasso in 1949, after graduating form Vero Beach High School than to west Texas, then to the Army where I spend 30 years.

I love reading about Wabasso to the full extent. A Ms. Helping always has wonderful info about my old Hometown.

My prayers are with all of the Wabasso population.

May 09, 2017
Wabasso
by: Sandra McKnight Johnson

My Grandmother and Grandfather with my mom (6 months old) came to Orchid Island in 1924 from Lady Lake, Florida. My Mom grew up on Lateral A. I have memories of crossing that bridge and hearing the slap of the boards. My Mom loved the Indian River Lagoon. She showed me where she and her father got oysters.

Jan 19, 2017
Great Memories
by: Chip Rommel

My family would vacation in Vero and we would be on the bridge at night with lanterns hanging down to the water and catching shrimp that were moving in the tide with long dip nets.

What a great time we had as kids. I never knew the bridge found a home at Disney.

Dec 15, 2016
The bridge tender
by: Taylor

My grandmother, Janice Sizelove, or Janice Wood to a lot, always told me stories of her growing up on the bridge since her daddy was the bridgetender. He lost his arm in an accident and cranked that thing with one arm! I love hearing all her stories, and love seeing how many people enjoy this little piece of history as well!

FLORIDA BACKROADS TRAVEL SAYS

Thanks for sharing the memory. We are also pleased by the number of our visitors who remember the bridge as it was and the good old days!

Oct 28, 2016
Old Florida memories
by: Karen

What a delight to hear that so many others have similar wonderful memories to the ones I do of the old Wabasso bridge. My family vacationed in Wabasso Beach every summer from the late 1940's on and always loved the sound of the car going over the bridge, the smell of the bridge, and seeing what the fishermen were catching. At night we would go and fish off the bridge and my Dad would buy bait for deep sea fishing from the man at the bridge house. Sometimes he would hang his bait cage from the bridge overnight to keep the bait fresh and pick it up the next day. We always stayed at the Sea Mist Lodge at Wabasso Beach and I would love to see some old pictures of that place and hear any memories other people have of it. In the 60's my brother and friend and I would ride our bikes over the bridge and go from the beach to Wabasso and stop and climb under the bridge just for fun. Wabasso back then was old Florida at it's best. I was so sad to see the old bridge replaced by a new one, but I'm glad to know part of it lives on.

Aug 13, 2016
Old Wabssso Bridge Built by Redstone
by: Dennis Redstone

In 1910, C.G. Redstone signed a contract with Brevard and St. Lucie Counties (St. Lucie County was created from the southern half of Bernard County in 1905) to build a bridge over the Sebastian River connecting Brevard and St. Lucie Counties. Indian River County would not be created until 1925.

C.G. singed his first contract for "C.G Redstone & Sons." He and his older sons drove all the pilings and everything was going well, until they experienced their first hurricane. The work they completed was destroyed by the hurricane. After all was done said, it was a $300 loss due to the destruction suffered by the hurricane. Back then there was no hurricane insurance.

The bridge would become famous a decade later thanks to the infamous Ashley Gang, a legendary family of bank robbers. In 1924 the Ashley Gang met their fate on the Sebastian River Bridge, killed in a shootout with lawmen.

This account taken from the book, "New York to Florida with Aunt Irene, The Redstone Family Story".

FLORIDA BACKROADS TRAVEL SAYS

This is a different bridge, but a great story anyway. The Wabasso bridge does not cross the Sebastian River, it crosses the Intracoastal Waterway. Your ancestor apparently built the nearby bridge over the Sebastian River a few miles north of Wabasso.

May 16, 2016
GREAT MEMORIES
by: BETTY MORSE LaMONICA

I lived on Orchid Island from 1958 to 1964 and went to school with Byron Wood, the bridge tender's son. When we moved to the island there were just a few houses because most people were afraid the cross the bridge even once, let alone twice a day.

We loved the old bridge.....the sound it made when we drove over the planks, asking the fishermen how the fish were biting, seeing the lanterns hung over the edge for night fishing. When we heard a large boat sound its horn for the bridge tender to open the bridge, we often ran out to see how large the boat was.

The bridge was still there during the Bay of Pigs Cuban Crisis and I remember the long line of navy vessels going through the bridge and down the Indian River. It was a scary time.

I'm so happy to know the bridge was saved and has such a terrific new home. I live in Rochester, New York now.

FLORIDA BACKROADS TRAVEL SAYS

Betty, thanks for sharing those childhood memories. I'm gratified to know so many people remember the old bridge.

May 13, 2016
History counts
by: Jack

My brother and I used to fish off of the old bridge. Just seeing the picture brings back great memories. The article was well written and much appreciated. They even used the correct term
for the area north of Vero Beach (Orchid Island).

FLORIDA BACKROADS TRAVEL SAYS

Thanks for the kind words. We were there and remember many things with our fuzzy minds, though not everything. Glad you enjoyed the article.

May 12, 2016
Bridge and Jones Fruit Dock
by: Bonnie

I knew the ole pioneer , Richard Milton Jones, of "Jones Fruit Dock", and I believe he said he was involved in the dismantling of the Old Wabasso Bridge. He never mentioned what became of the scrap, maybe nobody ever pondered that fact? What became "junk" to them, is history today, imagine.

FLORIDA BACKROADS TRAVEL SAYS

I remember visiting Jones Fruit Dock on several occasions both before and after the bridge was removed, but I never talked to anybody there about it. I wouldn't be surprise, however, as his was just about the only business I recall in the immediate area back then.

May 08, 2016
Wabasso Bridge. Swing Span
by: AnonJohn ymous

I lived in Wabasso from 1966 to 1970, and during the time I lived there the swing part of the old Wabasso bridge was just one lane, and had a traffic light on each end (east and west) to control the flow of traffic. I fished off of that bridge almost every day. And then they tore it down and built the concrete bridge and the fishing there was never the same, not near as good.

FLORIDA BACKROADS TRAVEL SAYS

I defer to your memory since you fished the bridge almost every day. I thought it was two lane, but I'm calling on memories of when I first saw it almost 50 years ago and some things are hazy. Based on what I see when I ride the Disney train, I think you are right about it being one lane.

I used to anchor my sailboat north of the causeway toward the mainland side and spend the quiet night there. Good fishing as I recall from the boat. Caught catfish to use as bait for the bigger ones.

May 07, 2016
OLD WABASSO BRIDGE
by: LEE E JOHNSTON

I also grew up in the Wabasso area from 1940-2014 and I remember the original swing bridge was a narrow single lane bridge.

I was away from Wabasso while in Germany in the US Army in 1959 and 1960. It was during that time that the single lane swing bridge was replaced with an old two lane swing bridge.

One thing Janice Wood forgot to mention was that her dad Ben Wood was physically disadvantaged but was very much able to manually open the bridge by walking in circles pushing a large crank whenever a boat came by. The two lane bridge had an electric motor to open it.

Back in those days there were only a few school children living on Orchid Island. My wife Ruby Piatt and her family grew up on the island and whenever a fire occurred on the bridge and the school bus was unable to cross, her dad Bunn Piatt would take the kids across the river in his little fishing boat to catch the school bus..

FLORIDA BACKROADS TRAVEL SAYS

Thanks for the history, Lee. You are right in that the bridge I remember seeing was two lane. It was old, so I wonder where it came from before FDOT moved it to Wabasso?

May 07, 2016
Great memories!
by: Donna

What a great story! I remember that old Bridge and oh my, it was scary. The sounds of the cars crossing was a constant clickity clack and I remember riding in our station wagon taking in the view from the back. What a great memory! Thank you for sharing. Never knew what happened to it, just knew it was replaced by a bridge that was so high it still scared me...lol

May 07, 2016
My home from 1951 til 1965
by: Janice Wood Sizelove

My Dad, Ben Wood, was the bridge tender on this bridge from 1951 until his death in 1965. We moved into that small house in 1951 when I was 13 years old, and had 2 younger siblings. It was my home until I graduated from VBHS in 1956, and my families home until my dad died in 1965!!Many great memories of this Wabasso wooden bridge!!

FLORIDA BACKROADS TRAVEL SAYS

Janice, thanks for sharing that history. That had to be an interesting place to grow up. I used to love crossing over the old bridge and also loved visiting Jones Fruit Dock on nearby Jungle Trail.

May 06, 2016
Memories!
by: Brenda

That was one narrow bridge in a '57 Chevy, and the boards made a great sound when crossing! Thanks for the picture!

May 06, 2016
A
by: Terri

My family built that original wood bridge in Wabasso.

FLORIDA BACKROADS TRAVEL SAYS

Terri, tell us more about your family and the original bridge if you have a chance.

May 06, 2016
Bridge History
by: Deana

I loved that old bridge. We would catch fish, shrimp and crabs from that bridge. It's part of my growing up years.

Now that my Dad is in heaven, I reflect on my upbringing with gratitude. I'm so happy to hear that this, piece of my history, has been preserved.

We are a Disney family. Now every time I ride that train, it will be extra exciting.

One thing I remember best was the smell of the creosote on the wooden timbers and the clackity clack sounds when we drove across. It was always exciting when the bridge would catch on fire. Here would come the fire department with their sirens blaring. The creosote was very flammable. A spark from a cigarette or lighting a lantern was all that it needed.

May 05, 2016
My connection
by: Cecilia

This is so cool. I never heard this before but I graduated in '65 from Vero Beach High School, went off to college and came back 4 years later to teach at Wabasso Elementary for the school year of 1969-70.

Now I know that right after that this bridge was dismantled and redone and installed at Disney World. My brother got a job at Disney right after it opened and we always went to Disney World with them and rode that train.

Now I finally know that this is the same bridge from Wabasso that we rode over. Amazing!

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