History of Vero’s bridges immortalized with marker

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L to R: Jessica Young Merchant and Madison Grace Merchant, great granddaughter and great-great granddaughter of A.W. and Irene Young, and daughter and granddaughter of today’s Vero Beach Vice Mayor Tony Young, unveil the new historical marker.
Photo by Mark Holt.

The history of the three bridges connecting the Vero Beach mainland and beach is now officially recognized on a new historical marker placed at the eastern end of Royal Palm Pointe Park.  The historical marker unveiling took place March 23rd at a dedication event organized by the Historical Society of Indian River County and led by Historical Society president Ruth Stanbridge.

Five years before Vero became Vero Beach and the County became Indian River, a parade of Model T automobiles crossed the first bridge to span the Indian River on Labor Day 1920.  This made Vero the first community with a bridge to Orchid Island.  Made of sabal palm pilings and rough-cut planking, the bridge began on the mainland side from a causeway created from dredged fill, and curved in the middle where the bridge tender’s house was located.  The bridge tender would open the metal swing span by hand for boat traffic and tolls were charged for bridge crossings.  At the time, it was the only bridge from mainland to barrier island between Daytona and Palm Beach.

In the 1950s, after successful lobbying from Florida State Senator Merrill P Barber (a Vero Beach resident), a new concrete bridge was constructed using an extension of the dredged-fill causeway for its bridgehead.  The Merrill P. Barber Bridge was designed in the Mid-Century Modern style, and had a steel bascule span with a booth for the bridge tender. A grand opening of this bridge was held in 1951.

The first Merrill P.  Barber Bridge served the community until 1995 when a modern concrete “arch” bridge replaced it.  This new bridge would carry the same name.  This second, and current, Barber bridge is fixed, and is tall enough that the Atlantic Ocean is clearly visible to the east.  The old causeway and bridgehead became Royal Palm Pointe, a residential and commercial corridor with a city park on the river.

Irene Young, wife of then Vero Beach Mayor A.W. Young, cut the ribbon for the first bridge in 1920.  Later, Irene Young, carried out the ribbon cutting for the second bridge in March 1951.

Aerial photo from 1951 of original and new (at the time) Barber Bridge. It was replaced in 1995 by the current Barber Bridge. The current Alma Lee Loy Bridge south of the Barber Bridge was opened in 1979 as the 17th Street Bridge, then renamed in Loy’s honor in 2012.

A.W. Young was the first mayor of Vero Beach from 1919, when the city was first incorporated, until 1921, and also served as the fifth mayor from 1935 to 1937. He was a member of the Florida House of Representatives from 1921 to 1925, and a member of the Florida Senate from 1929 to 1931.  As he was the legislative author of the act which removed Indian River County from the northern part St. Lucie County, Young is considered to be the founder of Indian River County.

Jessica Young Merchant and Madison Grace Merchant, great granddaughter and great-great granddaughter of A.W. and Irene Young, and daughter and granddaughter of today’s Vero Beach Vice Mayor Tony Young, unveiled the new historical marker.  Members of the Young family gathered along with the public to dedicate the new marker. Also present at the event were several children of the original Vero Beach and Wabasso “bridge tender” families. The families lived in very small houses built on the old bridges.

The county’s historical marker program is managed by the Historical Society of Indian River County and funded through the Tourist Development Council of Indian River County, and The Florida Department of State, Division of Historical Resources. There are twenty-two historical markers located in Indian River County.

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