Sunday, November 9, 2014

Red Oak Covered Bridge

The Meriwether Historical Society met on Sunday, November 2, 2014 at the Red Oak Covered Bridge between Woodbury and Gay in the Imlac Community. President Sallie Mabon welcomed members and guests to the special meeting that was held so the club could view the cleanup work that has been done recently around the bridge, view the new picnic tables and to hear how the tours to the bridge went during the Cotton Pickin’ Fair.

Mabon began by thanking those serving as tour guides and docents the weekend of the fair.  John and Ellen McEwen provided space at the fair and the replica of the Red Oak Covered bridge was an attention getter. Bruce O’Neal drove the county bus shuttling guests to the bridge and during the ride O’Neal and docents told about the county and the bridge.

The Together in Meriwether committee encouraged the creation of “rack cards” about the covered bridge, and they are now in welcome and tourist centers around Georgia. New signs along the highway will direct visitors to the bridge.

Mabon explained there were two covered bridges in Meriwether: The Red Oak and the White Oak, with both being built in the 1840s.  Our White Oak Covered Bridge burned some years ago.  Our local American Legion has stepped forward and pledged its support in maintenance in keeping graffiti off the structure as well as protection.

The bridge has earned much interest in the last years as it has been designated as being built by Horace King, a slave from South Carolina who is renowned as a master engineer and builder. Owned by John Godwin who came to the Columbus and Phenix City area to build the 560 foot bridge that first connected the cities, King’s bridge lasted until the Civil War. King went on to build grist mills, warehouses, and many more bridges.

Because Godwin often took stock in construction projects rather than be paid, he found himself with worthless stock and in financial ruin. He was offered $6,000 for Horace King but refused and worked to have King freed by an act of the Alabama legislature in 1846. After John Godwin's death in 1859, King erected a monument over Godwin’s grave in the Godwin cemetery in Phenix City that reads: "This stone was placed here by Horace King, in lasting remembrance of the love and gratitude he felt for his lost friend and former master."

King would go on to build numerous bridges for the Confederacy and would serve two terms in the Alabama General Assembly. He moved to LaGrange and lived there until his death in 1885.

King had a diverse genetic background: white, black and Cherokee that led Dr. William H. Green to say of King: "Laborer and legislator, his life was an astonishing symbolic bridge - a bridge not only between states, but between men. Like one of his stately Town lattice bridges, Horace King’s life soars above the murky waters of historical limitations, of human bondage and racial prejudice. He did not change the currents of social history, but he did transcend them and stands as a reminder of our common humanity, the potential of human spirit, the power of human respect."

Our Red Oak Covered Bridge in Meriwether has a 235 foot span making it the longest covered bridge in Georgia although the covered part is 115 feet. Mabon asked members and guests to reflect and share a story about the bridge. A certain prominent orthopedist from Meriwether is known to have stuffed a dummy that was lowered on ropes from the rafters to surprise motorists as they crossed. Shellie Chastain’s husband proposed on the covered bridge. Numerous tales and events were shared.

Bruce O’Neal told about the fish fries and fiddlers and “branch water” that made up a lot of Saturday nights when he was young.  FDR was known to have attended fish fries at Flat Shoals.

One unique historical point O’Neal pointed out was the Indian fish trap upstream of the bridge that is going to be repaired. There were seven traps on White Oak Creek and these Indian traps predate the building of the bridges by hundreds of years.  

Club members thoroughly enjoyed walking through and noting the size of the beams, the 2500 plus wooden pegs and the fall beauty along the creek.  While the meeting was held, a number of cars passed by and photographers were taking graduation photos.  The popular, historic bridge was being well appreciated that day.