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Highway to restore scenic look

For its builders, the road along Escambia Bay brings back memories.

After more than 70 years, J. Brent Watson's former girlfriends probably can't help but smile every time they drive by Scenic Highway and look for those submarine races Watson insisted went on in Escambia Bay.

"There was a picnic place . . . and that's where we used to take our dates to look at the submarine races," Watson, 96, said with a laugh. "Then my date would talk about the man on the moon, but I never saw him."

Watson paints a picture of a very different Scenic Highway in 1929 _ back then, it definitely was more "scenic" than "highway." Watson worked with surveyors in the beginning stages of Scenic Highway.

More than 70 years later, the Pensacola Scenic Bluffs Highway, one of the only scenic highways sanctioned by the state, may be facing some changes to make it more "scenic" again. Proposed plans include a multiuse path and signs highlighting the area's more than 300-year-old history.

The highway snakes along the highest land anywhere on Florida's coast. Rising up to 100 feet, towering red clay bluffs gouged out by the Escambia River offer an overlook of Pensacola Bay.

Watson said he remembers when there wasn't even a road _ just some swamps.

"There were alligators and snakes to deal with, and you just hope you don't step on one," said the former University of Florida running back.

"They had wagons with donkeys pulling clay and dumping it into the swamp so we could get the road on a level basis," said Watso.

Watson got the job after he left the University of Florida in his junior year during the Depression. He needed a job _ any job.

Days were long, beginning at 7 a.m. and ending at 5 in the evening. Workers used a little cabin as an office, but they spent most of the day out in the hot sun, Watson said.

There were few things to be seen on Scenic Highway then.

The road stretched from the Bayou Texar bridge and up 11 miles by U.S. 90. The road, which took two years to build, was called the "Million Dollar Road" because of its million-dollar price tag.

"The town couldn't wait for it to be finished. They even rushed and paved it, even though the engineer warned them against it. He told them if they paved it right away, it would sink, and it did."

But construction just continued, and the road became a popular drive for tourists as well as locals.

"A lot of people started moving out there after the road was built," Watson said. "They could see out on the bay, man, it was something."

Watson enjoyed the road he helped build, taking girls on motorcycle rides overlooking Escambia Bay.

Watson met his wife while working on Scenic Highway, but they didn't start dating until the road was finished.

"Out of all the girls, the woman who became my wife was the only one who wouldn't ride it," he said smiling, reminiscing about his wife and his motorcycle.