Originally created 09/29/03

Bridge replica honors ex-slave



ALBANY, Ga. - An emancipated slave who became one of the South's leading 19th century bridge builders is being honored with a Flint River overlook patterned after a covered bridge he built nearly 150 years ago.

Volunteers have been bolting huge timbers in place and screwing down the decking as the memorial to Horace King takes shape on the river's west bank in Albany.

"This is something that is historic and I wanted to be a part of it," volunteer Willis Moffitt, 58, said during a break from driving nails and carrying lumber. "We're all working together - black, white, red and yellow, every race there is, young and old, male and female - to honor what he did."

Built with planks and heavy timbers, the structure will not span the river. Instead, it will extend out from the bank for about 32 feet as an overlook resembling one end of the bridge Mr. King completed in Albany in 1858.

"This will serve as a monument to Horace King," said Christopher Pike, the curator of Albany's Thronateeska Heritage Museum, who has provided historical and technical assistance for the project.

"He deserves national recognition for what he overcame - slavery," Mr. Pike said. "His life is a model for white and black of what you can accomplish when you put hard work and dedication into what you're doing."

Born a South Carolina slave in 1807, Mr. King moved to Columbus, Ga., with contractor John Godwin, his white master, in 1832. They built many covered bridges, including Columbus' first span across the Chattahoochee River.

Their style used a lattice of crisscrossed planks on each side between the deck and the roof to help support their bridges.

As Mr. King's reputation spread, Mr. Godwin freed him in 1846. They remained close and when Mr. Godwin died penniless, Mr. King bought a stone marker for his grave.

Albany's founder, Nelson Tift, hired Mr. King to build a bridge to carry traffic over the Flint for his growing town, a southwest Georgia cotton center.

After the bridge opened in 1858, some residents complained that Mr. Tift's tolls were exorbitant, and eventually someone torched the bridge.

"Apparently some of the citizens ... got mad and in 1870, they burned it down," Mr. Pike said.

A year later, Mr. King's bridge was replaced by another wooden bridge known as the Maxwell Bridge.

Mr. Pike said he has been unable to locate a single photo of the original span.

Mr. King settled in LaGrange in 1872 and gradually turned his bridge-building business over to his daughter and two sons. They continued the business after his death in 1888.

At least one bridge believed to have been built by Mr. King has survived, in Merriweather County.

Albany's overlook will be patterned after Merriweather's 1840s Red Oak Creek Bridge.

The overlook is part of a 10-year, $210 million redevelopment project in Albany that includes an aquarium featuring fish and other native species from the Flint, a river-front park, a playground, a trail system and eventually a hotel and convention center.

When Mr. King spanned the Flint, he also built a bridge house with an upstairs ballroom and a downstairs tollbooth.

The overlook stands in the exact location of Mr. King's old bridge, between the bridge house and the river. The bridge house, in serious disrepair after several floods and years of use as a blacksmith shop and an auto parts store, will be refurbished and incorporated into the river-front park.

The Horace King project was coordinated by the local chapter of a black women's group known as Links Inc.

The project attracted about 60 volunteers a day last week from such groups as Habitat for Humanity, the Junior League of Albany and the Turner Job Corps, a local job-training center.

"This project has brought together a cross-section of the community," Links member Connie Adams said.

"We're recreating Horace King's creation," said Links President Martha Craft. "We want our children to know there was more than one King - Martin Luther King, C.B. King (an Albany civil rights attorney) and now Horace King."

Georgia still has 15 covered bridges, from the Coheelee Bridge, near Blakely in the southwest, to the Stovall Mill Bridge in mountainous White County.

The Covered Bridge Trail of Georgia Inc., which has a visitor center in Thomaston, promotes the bridges as tourist attractions.