Historic Destin bridge wood finds home in a cross at cemetery

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log

Ask and you shall receive.

That’s pretty much all it took for the city of Destin to get a lighted wooden cross for the Destin Memorial Cemetery on Stahlman Avenue. 

Last year, retired Capt. Tommy Browning and his son, Tommy Lee Jr., made about 100 lighted wooden crosses for family and friends around town as a sign of light and hope during the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. 

The lumber Capt. Tommy Browning and his son Tommy Lee used to build the lighted cross for the Destin Cemetery was from the original 1933 Destin bridge that was torn down in the early 1970s. Standing from left are Lisa Firth, parks and recreation director for the city of Destin, Tommy Browning Sr. and Tommy Lee Browning Jr.

Capt. Tommy Browning recently served as grand marshal for the 2020 Christmas Parade in Destin. 

More:Destin Christmas Parade: Retired captain, longtime resident Tommy Browning is grand marshal

About that time, Destin Park and Recreation Director Lisa Firth, who serves as chairwoman of the Christmas parade, asked the Brownings if they could build one of the crosses for the Destin Cemetery since she enjoyed her own cross. 

Little did Firth know, the cross the Brownings would build for the cemetery would have historical value. 

Construction of the Destin bridge across East Pass begins in 1933.

The Brownings built the cross out of lumber from the original wooden Destin bridge that was built in 1933 and torn down in the early 1970s. The wooden bridge was 3,210 feet long. 

“I basically asked for a Barbie doll and I got a queen,” Firth said, noting she loved the idea of it being made out of something historical from the community. 

More:April 2020 - CORONAVIRUS: Crosses light up Destin with hope

How did the Brownings come up with lumber from the original Destin bridge? 

Tommy Lee explained that when the bridge was torn down, they were able to get their hands on some of the lumber. 

Some pieces from the old Destin bridge lumber were used to build a cross for the Destin Cemetery on Stahlman Avenue.

“They asked if anybody wanted any of it. It was still good lumber, just come and get what you want,” Tommy Lee said. 

The Brownings secured enough of the bridge lumber that they built a deck with it at their old home on Calhoun Avenue. 

More:When was the first Destin bridge built?

Tommy Lee recently bought the old house and tore up the deck. 

“Some of the lumber was still good … it was historic lumber,” Tommy Lee said. So, he decided to save 20 to 30 pieces. 

Destin Parks and Recreation Director Lisa Firth along with Park Supervisor Ryan Reed make sure the lights and the cross at the cemetery is secured on Friday.

When Firth asked about a cross for the cemetery, Tommy Lee thought the bridge lumber would be perfect. 

The Brownings built a cross from the bridge lumber, put lights on it and a plaque that reads: “Cross made out of original Destin Bridge wood by Capt. Tommy Browning Sr. & Tommy Lee Browning Jr.” 

The wooden Destin bridge was built in 1933 and torn down in the early 1970s.

On Friday, Jan. 8, the cross was placed about 10 yards inside the entrance to the cemetery just off Stahlman Avenue. 

The Brownings said they have plans to make a similar cross for the Marler Cemetery on Calhoun Avenue, where many of the early founders are buried.