Haunted houses are as plentiful as zombie costumes at Halloween, but we here on the east coast of Florida have a haunted bridge! Mathers Bridge, a swing bridge stretching over the Banana River from Indian Harbour Beach to Merritt Island, stands beside the site of a former old-Florida seafood dive, legendary Mathers Bridge Restaurant. Torn down in 1992 due to residents’ complaints of too much noise, what still remains are the happy hippy spirits of that era – at night fishermen claim to hear them still singing and playing music.
I’d like to think those hippy spirits are doing their best to wreak a little delightful havoc and noisy revenge on those solace-seeking residents in their riverfront mansions!
Mathers Bridge Restaurant operated for 52 years where most of the diners sat outside on a wooden deck overlooking the river.
Painting by Joyce Warner, titled “Mathers Bridge Remembered.” Photo courtesy of Florida Backroads Travel
Patrons could arrive by boat or by car, and most would have to park across the bridge and walk over as there were very few parking spaces on this skinny end of Merritt Island. Today there remains only a concrete pad surrounded by a chain link fence, and one lone headless statue of a sphinx called The Watcher, created by artist Kevin Tipton, to ‘protect the wildlife.’
“The Watcher,” with “Mathers Fish Camp” spelled out using shells
Kevin also painted a multitude of beautiful murals covering the restaurant: 100 manatees, schools of fish (labeled with their scientific names as well as what the locals called them), a beautiful yet eerie mermaid, Triton, planets, and “Lord of the Stars.” (Sounds like something out of a current day video game.)
Kevin certainly had an imagination, and I only wish I’d been around to see this whimsical place and sit on the deck with a cold one, watching the bridge swing open for the boats.
Back then the swing bridge was operated by hand, and at times groups of kids were allowed to crank it open. There was also a waterwheel with a mermaid attached next to the restaurant – its function was to aerate the shrimp boxes in case the power went out. For some of the kids who remember the water wheel, the mermaid’s breasts were the first “bare bosoms” they’d ever seen!
Sounds like a colorful place in many ways! The lavish murals, The Watcher, the old swing bridge, the mermaid wheel. The music and the simple, delicious meals – shrimp baskets, fish and chips, burgers and dogs. No wonder there are spirits still hanging out at night by the bridge next to where Mathers Bridge Restaurant was torn down, remembering and wistfully singing about those bygone days.
Here are some more photos from the past, and of what remains:
A big thank you to Donna Lewis for sharing her photographs with me. She’s a lucky girl to have grown up in this area and have fun memories of Mathers Bridge Restaurant.
Also thanks to Florida Backroads Travel for most of the info for my Haunted Bridge post. You can read more about Mathers Bridge Restaurant on their site, here. Be sure to read the comments following this post; there are many more stories told by people who also spent time there.
Watch a slideshow picturing the amazing murals painted by Kevin Tipton, here. (I wasn’t able to capture screen shots to show you – our squirrel has bitten off some of the keys on my keyboard…. I know. Who lets their squirrel near their keyboard??) The haunting music that plays along is perfect for our story!
The haunted info was found on hauntedplaces.org, a cool site where you can find haunted places in your area!