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Gandy’s Dandy Dream: Something to be Thankful For

East end of Gandy’s bridge under construction with the concrete casting plant to the right. More than 1,500 laborers were utilized to complete the $2-million span across the Bay. Circa September 1923

Known by many as “Dad,” the bespectacled George S. Gandy was a stern-looking fellow with a no-nonsense reputation. He’d been instrumental in the building of several profitable trolley lines in and around Philadelphia before moving to Florida in 1902 at the request of F.A. Davis, to serve as president of the St. Petersburg & Gulf Electric Railway Company.

Ultimately, Gandy’s transportation experience was the basis for his most memorable achievement. He viewed with disgust the 52-mile long route that connected St. Petersburg to Tampa. If Tampa Bay could be spanned, he reasoned, the cities could be made almost next-door neighbors and both would profit. But even an optimist like Gandy realized that 1903 was not the time for the construction of a bridge. The Tampa Bay region simply had not developed enough to make it a profitable proposition. He resolved, however, that unless someone got ahead of him, “I’ll build it myself.”

With help from Eugene M. Elliott, a smooth-talking pitchman, Gandy raised nearly $2 million worth of preferred Gandy stock in less than four months (an impressive $32 million in today’s money). ‘Dad’ never invested a dime of his own money. By 1915, Gandy had plotted what he believed to be the best route and had obtained the needed rights of way from Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties.

By 1917, others had caught on to Gandy’s idea of bridging the Bay. In fact, the Tampa Atlantic & Gulf Railroad Company filed plans to build their bridge. But the competition didn’t deter Gandy. He rallied civic support and petitioned the War Department’s Board of Engineers for approval of his plan above all others.

The grant was made on February 11, 1918, about ten months after the United States entered World War I. It became nearly impossible to secure construction materials. Gandy’s engineers took advantage of the delay by making new surveys and selected a natural rock shelf that allowed a deeper, 23-foot channel across the middle of the bay. But, the high price of construction materials following the war added to the delay. Gandy’s plan called for trolley tracks down the very center, but steel rails were never laid and no trolley ever crossed the span.

On May 15, 1923, twenty years after his plan was conceived and seven years after the first surveys were made, whistles screeched, men cheered, and guns were fired into the air as the first batch of concrete was poured at the pile-casting plant. Nearly 2,400 reinforced concrete piles, some as long as 60 feet, would eventually be poured, cured and then steam-hammered into the bay floor. During the final year of construction the project would put more than 1,500 men to work

The formal 1924 opening was on Thanksgiving Day. With a guest list that included the governors of 17 states, a 73-year-old George Gandy watched as the first of nearly 10,000 cars drove across his dream highway. Before he completed the span, travel from St. Petersburg to Bradenton to the south required a ninety-mile adventure. Gandy’s bridge connected Tampa to the Pinellas peninsula and eliminated nearly half of the St. Petersburg to Bradenton journey, having an immediate effect on Tampa Bay area residents and visitors alike.

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Building the Sunshine City is a pictorial exhibition highlighting St. Pete’s dramatic growth from swampy pine forests to a vibrant arts and culture tourist destination. Experience the birth of St. Petersburg through self-guided exploration of the Museum, or join one of our docent-led tours hosted every Saturday at 2pm and included in the cost of general admission. Call 727.894.1052 ext. 200 for more information or to make reservations for docent tour.

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