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PCR #170  (Vol. 4, No. 26)  This edition is for the week of June 23--29, 2003.
La Floridiana by Will Moriaty
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Getting From Here To There - - The Story of the Bee Line Ferry and the Sunshine Skyway Bridge

Part One of Three

One of my favorite places in Florida is the famed Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Although originally completed in the summer of 1954 (about the same time I was being conceived in the Isle of Pines in Cuba), I would not actually ride on this world-class structure until 1971. I am proud to have a part and continue to be a part of the unfolding history of this vital transportation link between Pinellas and Manatee Counties, Florida. I will elaborate on that later on in this series.

Just How Did People Get From Here To There Before 1954?
Prior to the advent of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and causeway being built, motorists in St. Petersburg had to drive to either the Gandy Toll Bridge or the Ben T. Davis Causeway (now the Courtney Campbell Causeway) Toll Bridge into Tampa and drive through town to U.S. Highway 41. This land route took the motorist 49 miles out of their way from having a more direct route that would traverse Pinellas and Manatee Counties at their closest juncture across Tampa Bay.

The Bee Line Ferry brochure
A cover of the Ferry's winter schedule (year unknown -- from the collection of the author).
In order to resolve this dilemma, three diesel ferryboats transported cars and their motorists from Pinellas Point in south St. Petersburg to Piney Point in Manatee County. Known as the "Bee Line Ferry" fleet, the company's three boats had the following specifications:

1.. "Pinellas": 101 gross tons; 135' long; 30' wide; 20 automobiles; 120 passengers.
2.. "Manatee": 235 gross tons; 150' long; 32' wide; 31 automobiles; 180 passengers.
3.. "Sarasota": 170 gross tons; 135' long; 34' wide; 29 automobiles; 180 people.

The St. Petersburg terminal for this operation was located on 4th Street South, five miles south of the downtown post office, while the Piney Point terminal was located 11 miles north Bradenton on Road 541.

The ferries ran from both terminals every 45 minutes, generally running between 7:30 A.M. and 9:00 P.M. The run time was 40 minutes one way and the distance was seven miles. The rates were:

1.. Automobiles: 10 cents per foot of car length, the driver was free, while passengers were 25 cents each. Children under 14 were free. Round trip was $3.00.
2.. Passengers without automobiles: 25 cents per trip.
3.. Trucks and busses: 10 cents per foot of vehicle length.
4.. Motorcycles and riders: 50 cents.
5.. Bicycles and riders: 25 cents.
6.. House trailers and commercial trailers: 10 cents per foot of trailer length.

A book of tickets called a "Commutation Book" could be purchased for $7.50 for $10.00 worth of tickets.

The brochure for this enterprise that I purchased from "Miami Mike" Hiscano at the Floridana Fest II in March 2003 at the Gulfport Casino (link to the March 2-9, 2003 PCR at http://www.crazedfanboy.com/npcr/laflapcr154.html for more about that story) is fascinating. It urged the visitor to check out the following attractions:

1.. "Japanese Garden": A private estate located on Indian Rocks Road south of Belleair.
2.. "Seville": This was a peacock farm located at the southeast corner of U.S. Highway 19 (then known as "Haines Road") and Gulf to Bay Boulevard (State Road 60). The land that the farm occupied would later become the Seville Condominiums and Clearwater Mall. The Mall used to have peacocks engraved into the fašade of their buildings, and the peacocks were used for many years as the Mall's official logo. (I remember it well having worked at the Montgomery Ward there from 1978 to 1987) Peacocks from the old Seville farm produced offspring that many years later delighted me and my mother with their unique birdcalls and plumage while they were walking through the Oaks apartments complex that lived at along U.S. 19 from 1976 to 1986. Sadly, Clearwater Mall was demolished within the past year.
3.. "The United States Veterans Home": Now know as Bay Pines Veterans Home located on Bay Pines Boulevard in current day Seminole.
4.. "Ringling Art Museum and Ringling Circus Winter Headquarters": The art museum of John and Mabel Ringling is still alive and well on the Tamiami Trail (U.S. Highway 41) in Sarasota/ The museum houses one of the largest collections of Rubens in the world. Adjacent to this museum is the Ringling Mansion also known as the "C'a d'Zan", or "House of John". The Winter Quarters near Fruitville Road was the "Home of the Largest Show on Earth" from December to April.
5.. "Moon Lake Garden and Dude Ranch": Boasting "the largest gardens in Florida. truly worth your visit from anywhere. nowhere will you find such beauty." This Garden was located near New Port Richey. What has become of it is beyond me. I'm pretty familiar with Florida's gardens and I can say in all candor that I've never heard of this one.
6.. "Tarpon Springs": "The seat of the sponge industry." Not much has changed since then. It also has great Greek food!
7.. "St. Petersburg's $1,000,000 Pier": The home of radio station WSUN, and later to television station Channel 38.

But the glory days of taking the ferry between St. Petersburg and Piney Point were closing to an end as draglines were gutting the Bay bottom to form a roadway in the waters of Tampa Bay. Once the work would be completed the motorist would no longer need to depend on the boat as a means the cross the water.

Bee Line brochure inside
An inset of the schedule highlighting local attractions (from the collection of the author).

Dan Allison Update
While we're on the subject of Florida institutions, check out the latest web site link for Tampa Bay area author Dan Allison (http://geocities.com/danallisonbooks) who is penning the first chapter of his third Jake Murdock novel (hooray)!

Next Week: In Part Two, we flash forward to the year 1954 and the opening of one of West Coast Florida's most well known landmarks the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. All right here in La Flordiana (c/o Nolan's Pop Culture Review)!

"La Floridiana" is ©2003 by William Moriaty.  Webpage design and all graphics herein (except where otherwise noted) are creations of Nolan B. Canova.  All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2003 by Nolan B. Canova.