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Bridge of Lions

Matanzas River Highway Bridge

Bridge of Lions

Primary Photographer(s): Nathan Holth

Bridge Documented: November 15, 2014

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Key Facts

St. Augustine: St. Johns County, Florida: United States
Structure Type
Metal Variable Depth Deck Girder, Movable: Double Leaf Bascule (Rolling Lift) and Approach Spans: Metal Cantilever Deck Girder, Fixed

Technical Facts

Rehabilitation Date
Main Span Length
135 Feet (41.1 Meters)
Structure Length
1,545 Feet (470.9 Meters)
Roadway Width
25 Feet (7.62 Meters)
1 Main Span(s) and 23 Approach Span(s)
NBI Number

Historic Significance Rating (HSR)
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Bridge Documentation

View Archived National Bridge Inventory Report - Has Additional Details and Evaluation

View Historic Bridge Inventory Sheet For This Bridge

This bridge as originally designed consisted of deck plate girder spans both for the very long approaches at each end of the bridge and for the double-leaf bascule main span. The bascule span was a traditionally composed riveted deck plate girder double-leaf bascule with arched girders. Structurally, it is actually the approach spans that presented the more unusual and most noteworthy design. Most of the approach spans, closest to the bascule span, were arched deck plate girders. These girders were designed as cantilevered girder systems. This means that every other approach span consists of either a system of two cantilever arms (identified by the gap in the girder at the middle of the span) or a span consisting of anchor arms (which do not have the gap). Toward the ends of the bridge, a special deck plate girder span visually transitions from an arch to a straight girder design. The remaining end spans after this span all have straight girders. The bascule span was designed with four bridge tender houses. This indicates a focus on aesthetics and symmetry because bascule bridges in historical times only ever needed two bridge tender houses, and today only one bridge tender house is needed to operate bascule spans. The design of the bridge tender houses includes substantial architectural details that are in harmony with the distinctive architecture of St. Augustine.

Decorative lion statues at the western end of the bridge have given rise to the bridge's name, Bridge of Lions.

This bridge received a heavy rehabilitation in 2010. The massive project received a lot of attention because of its scale. Its heavy focus on the visual appearance of the bridge and the function of the bridge, at the expense of original bridge design and original bridge materials, is reminiscent of historic bascule rehabilitation projects in Chicago, such as the Kinzie Street Bridge. The rehabilitation of the Bridge of Lions included the complete replacement of the bascule span with a new span that closely simulates the original design and appearance of the historic span with the exception that bolts were used instead of rivets. The interior portions of the approach girder spans were replaced, and the bridge was even widened. However, most of the original fascia girders on the approach spans were shipped to a shop for rehabilitation (many, but not all rivets were replaced with bolts) and then returned to the bridge site. The rehabilitated girders support themselves and part of the sidewalk, but not the roadway. The roadway today is supported by modern stringers. The key alteration to the approach fascia girders is that they appear to have been converted to continuous design by bolting plates on at the center cantilever spans to join the two cantilever arms together in a rigid fashion. Visually, especially when viewed from a distance, the bridge retains its original appearance despite alteration. At the same time, some original elements that were missing on the bridge prior to rehabilitation were replicated and placed back on the bridge. These include light standards, paint color, and pedestrian railing (although the replica railing is slightly different than the original to meet safety code).

The bridge tender houses for the bridge are original and were not replaced.

To someone who has visited many historic movable bridges, one of the most interesting items on the bridge is the retention of fully functional historical style swing gates. The predecessors to the modern automatic gates found on bascule bridges, swing gates are rarely found on surviving historic bascule bridges, and those that do survive rarely operate. In the case of this bridge, the swing gates are fully operational and close when the bridge is raised, and include a bell that rings. Modern gates are also present further back which also operate during a bridge left and meet modern safety codes.

During rehabilitation, an enormous temporary Bailey truss vertical lift bridge was erected to carry traffic on this important roadway. In its own way, this interesting adaptation of the infinitely adaptable Bailey truss is an interesting engineering feat in itself.

Overall, the rehabilitation of this bridge is a good example of compromise. Its not a perfect example of historic bridge preservation and restoration, but it does retain a historic appearance, some of the original material, and given how busy this bridge is, the need for a compromise solution like this is somewhat apparant.

The roadway east of the bridge has been realigned at some point. It is somewhat obvious in visiting the bridge that the roadway carried by the Bridge of Lions once continued directly east onto Alcazar Street, but today curves to the south slightly.



Photo Galleries and Videos: Bridge of Lions

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Bridge Photo-Documentation
Original / Full Size Photos
A collection of overview and detail photos. This gallery offers photos in the highest available resolution and file size in a touch-friendly popup viewer. Alternatively, Browse Without Using Viewer
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Bridge Photo-Documentation
Mobile Optimized Photos
A collection of overview and detail photos. This gallery features data-friendly, fast-loading photos in a touch-friendly popup viewer. Alternatively, Browse Without Using Viewer
View Video
Bridge Being Raised
Full Motion Video
Video of the bridge in operation for boats. Streaming video of the bridge. Also includes a higher quality downloadable video for greater clarity or offline viewing.
View Video
Bridge Being Lowered
Full Motion Video
Video of the bridge in operation for boats. Streaming video of the bridge. Also includes a higher quality downloadable video for greater clarity or offline viewing.


Maps and Links: Bridge of Lions

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