The Old Iron Bridge
Backstory and Context
Early History of the Bridge
Built in 1894 by the Kings Bridge Company of Cleveland this was the first major bridge that would connect Oviedo and Orlando. Iron Bridge Road, built in the late 1800s, was the first road from Orlando to East Orange. The Little Econlockhatchee River crossed the bridge the road was named for. The one lane, 50-foot truss span carried the burden of traffic between Orlando and Oviedo.
Deterioration of the Bridge
The bridge collapsed into the Little Econlockhatchee River after decades of use then years of neglect and vandalism left it metal supports too deteriorated to stand fell apart. Remains of the old bridge were pulled out in 1978. With the Kings Bridge Company, going out of business in the early 1940s it was impossible to have a replacement bridge built.
What to Do With It Now?
On Feb 29, 1960, the Orange County Commission gave the historic Old Iron Bridge to Mr. and Mrs. A. Ross Evans of Winter Park. Commissioners had faced a problem of what to do with the bridge since it was determined by engineers that it would be too costly to move and would not be of any good use to the day’s current traffic. Originally, the Evans had said that they wished to repair the bridge so they could have it for their own use; it seems they failed to do so because it was not much longer that the bridge would deteriorate completely.
A New Bridge
A delegation of East Orange County property owners from north of Union Park petitioned the county commission in the 1980s to replace the long-abandoned Old Iron Bridge. A representative for the group, said that there is a great need now to bridge the Little Econlockhatchee River, for the benefit of the people in the immediate area and to open that part of the county for development.
The Old Iron Bridge gave Union-Parkers a safe shortcut into Winter Park. The property owners suggested that McCullough Road is opened up with a new bridge. County engineer Fred DeWitt estimated it would require a 200-foot bridge costing $60,000-$75000 (1963)
McCullough Road is on the county boundary and it was asuumed confidence that Seminole County would pay half the cost. The county commission promised to negotiate with Seminole to have the county engineer’s office investigate the right of way situation and to budget money the following year. There are still ongoing plans to widen McCullough and build a new bridge in its place.
Restoration of The Old Iron Bridge
The real Iron Bridge, the one the sewage plant is named for, vanished sometime during the early 1970s. The Florida Engineering Society is hoping that the smaller but similar looking bridge salvaged from the Leesburg area will be a suitable substitute as the centerpiece for a new community project.
If the orange county commission agrees, the engineers plan to refurbish the replacement bridge and place it in Jay Blanchard Park (formerly the Little Econ Park) located only a few miles south of where the original once stood.
Most of the early bridges in Central Florida were wood there were not that many iron bridges around so it was a lucky to find the Okahumpka Bridge. The idea for the bridge project began in 1978 when then Orlando Public Works Director Paul Matthes suggested it as an outgrowth of planning discussions on Orlando’s Iron Bridge sewage treatment plant. The Okahumpka Bridge would serve as the best that the engineers could come up with. The society would then approach Orange County’s Parks Advisory Board about moving the bridge to a spot in Jay Blanchard Park.
On Nov. 13, 1984, armed with pickaxes and a huge crane, a crew of parks department employees headed up to the retrieve the bridge, At the time, all work was estimated to cost between $25,000 and $50,000 and would be donated by various engineering firms. Engineering students from UCF had even volunteered to help with the project. East Orange
County residents had also established a trust fund to renovate and improve Jay Blanchard Memorial Park. The renovations were done in three phases with the first being the placement of the Okahumpka Bridge. The historic bridge serves as a tribute to the original bridge and the residents of the area.
The new bridge is 40 feet long, 13½ feet wide and barely 6 feet tall. It is primarily used for walking, fishing, and recreational activity. Jay Blanchard Park is located on Dean Road about a half mile north of SR 50.
Food for thought:
Oviedo was still a part of Orange County at the time the bridge was built.
In an article from the Orlando Sentinel, an unnamed daughter of James Lee, states about going back to the Old Iron Bridge School in Oviedo.
Anderson, Valerie. "Restoration Committee Needs to Bridge Gap in Park Fund Raising." The Orlando SentinelMay 05, 1987. .Andrews, Mark. "Solders, Indians and Hogs Chose the Sites Where Central Florida’s Highways are Today." The Orlando SentinelJuly 02, 1992. .
Rider, Don. "East Countians Want A New Bridge." Orlando Evening StarApril 04, 1963. .
"County Presents A Bridge." Orlando Evening StarFebruary 29, 1960. .
"Little Econ Can’t Wait." The Orlando SentinelFebruary 09, 1985. .
Williams, Mildred. "Bridge Of 1800’s Returning During ’80’s." The Orlando SentinelAugust 16, 1985. .