The Old Wabasso Bridge

We know many of you are limiting travel during these uncertain times.  Although we continue to feature trips and places to visit, we are not encouraging you to visit them until it is safe.  We want to support Florida's attractions and businesses during this situation, and hope you will plan to visit them when things get better.  In the meantime, enjoy them virtually from the comfort of your home. 

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 oceanfront vacation at the resort know the historical link that Disney has to this bridge?

Old Wabasso Bridge 1950s, Florida MemoryOld Wabasso Bridge 1950s Looking North, Florida Memory

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.

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 and other vessels 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.

Walt Disney World SidewheelerWalt Disney World Sidewheeler

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.

Old Wabasso Swing Bridge Across the Indian RiverOld Wabasso Swing Bridge Across the Indian River

In the late 1960s, 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 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 across the river. 

Many of the structural members were badly rusted and pitted, and some were completely corroded through. Still, after careful inspection, the Disney engineers decided they could salvage the old bridge. 

They decided to buy it and use it at Walt Disney World rather than building a new one. They bought it from DOT and had it cut up into smaller sections.

The entire collection of old bridge parts was then loaded onto 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 across the canal on the Main Street Railroad route.

The Old Wabasso Bridge at Walt Disney World

Bridge on Main Street Railroad at Walt Disney WorldBridge on Main Street Railroad at Walt Disney World

The completely restored bridge looked very much like the old original, except for its general shape. Only Disney knows for sure whether or not this imaginative venture saved money. The Imagineers may have been more interested in saving an old bridge than in saving money.

New Wabasso Bridge Across Indian RiverNew Wabasso Bridge Across Indian River

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.

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

New Wabasso Bridge Across the Indian RiverNew Wabasso Bridge Across the Indian Rive

Read what visitors to our website have said about their memories of the Old Wabasso Bridge:  Old Wabasso Bridge Visitor Comments.



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Stories by an engineer who worked on the construction of  Walt Disney World from 1968-1971.

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