In 1916, uninhabited and pristine Clearwater Beach Island was familiar only to fisherman and day boaters. The fishermen’s “ranchettes” were the only permanent structures that existed on the sandy shores of the beach at this time.
With the invention of electricity, telephones, and automobiles during the first part of the 20th Century, the face of America and Clearwater Beach transformed forever. In 1986, the
Pinellas Planning Council stated that: “Few people could have predicted the impact of this machine (automobile) on the peninsula, or the vast expenses to which local government would be subjected by it.”
In 1916, realizing if they built a bridge the tourists would come, the City of Clearwater held an election for a $10,000 bond to construct a bridge linking Clearwater to the beach. The bond was approved with the support of the city’s earliest suffragettes who were voting for the first time.
Completed in 1917, the Seminole Bridge now joined the automobile to the sand. The bridge commenced at Seminole Street in Clearwater and terminated at the brick road in front of Clearwater’s Palm Pavillion. The turnstile bridge allowed boats to pass through when opened by the bridge tender. The bridge tender, Dan Stoutamire, lived a peaceful life in the two-story structure that was built at the halfway point on the bridge.
The narrow bridge also had “pull-offs” to allow passage for on-coming cars. Daily, the wood planks baked relentlessly in the scorching Florida sun. Eventually, the planks began to curl at each end, popping the embedded nails as they dislocated from the frame. As Model T’s drove up and down the bridge, the “clippitty-cloppity” sound of hard rubber tires against unstable dry wood gave the bridge its nickname: “Old Rickety.” Another accessory was a bucket of water available in case someone carelessly flicked a cigarette onto the dry wooden boards.
Mother Nature continued to play havoc on Old Rickety and in 1921 a major hurricane hit Clearwater Beach and caused considerable damage to the four-year-old bridge. The hurricane widened “Little Pass,” known as Clearwater Pass, to over ½ mile wide at the beach’s south end.
Work on a second causeway bridge began in 1926 and on Veteran’s Day, November 11, 1927, the $1,000,000 Memorial Causeway Bridge opened.
The old drawbridge of 1926 eventually became obsolete, and a new drawbridge was built in 1960. Two years later, the first bridge to Sand Key was built at Clearwater Pass. The Sand Key Bridge tied Clearwater Beach to the largest barrier island in Pinellas County; 14 miles long.
In 2005, the Clearwater Beach drawbridge was replaced by the modern bridge with 74 ft. of vertical clearance over the Intracoastal at the cost of $45 million. Today, the only
physical proof that the 1917 “Rickety Bridge” ever existed is a part of the turnstile, located approximately “100 yards west” from the filled-in parking lot of the Seminole Boat Ramp in Clearwater, stated local historian Michael Sanders.
“If you look out westerly from the boat ramp, you may see the remnant of the old turnstile at the extreme low tide.”