Red Oak Covered Bridge

In visiting family in Meriwether County, Georgia this past weekend, I made several memorable finds. One was the Red Oak Covered Bridge in Imlac, Georgia.

This is a town of about 6, give or take 2. You sneeze while driving through, not only do you miss it, you miss the next town too. But there is a well-marked turn called Covered Bridge Road, and that made me want to explore. I do not think of Madison County covered bridges when I think of this section of rural Georgia. But not far away from Hwy 85E, running between Manchester, GA and the southern suburbs of Atlanta, this side road narrows to a 12-15-foot wide one lane road and you come up on a massive, plain-looking covered bridge built in the 1840′s by freed slave Horace King, and standing strong enough today that you can still drive through it and over the wood pier that leaves the covered part of the bridge. It is Georgia’s oldest, standing covered bridge, and its longest, and, likely, it’s sturdiest.

Horace King is the story here, a story that began in 1807 in South Carolina, where he was born a slave; his ethnic heritage was a mixture of African-American, Native American and white.

His second owner was John Godwin, an entrepreneur who studied bridge building with some of the leading New England experts of the times.

In the 1830s, Godwin moved to West Georgia, where bridge builders were needed, especially to help open up the Chattahoochee Valley region. Though King was technically Godwin’s “property,” in reality, King functioned more as Godwin’s junior partner.

Together, they built the first bridge across the Chattahoochee connecting Columbus with Phenix City, Alabama (then known as Girard). The 560-foot-long covered bridge was crucial to the development of the region.

In the early 1840s, a catastrophic flood washed he bridge down the river. Columbus officials were anxious to get a new bridge, so they awarded the contract to Godwin, who had given them the highest bid but the earliest completion date.

King was credited by historians with making the project successful. He salvaged pieces of the old bridge and helped build the new one before the deadline.

It was this kind of cooperation that led Godwin to give King his legal freedom in 1846. The Alabama Legislature, likely influenced by an important legislator who was a business associate of Godwin and King, passed a bill making King’s freedom official.

It is also likely that Godwin’s failing finances and ill health contributed to the timing of his decision to make King a free man. Godwin wanted to ensure that King could not be considered part of his estate that could be claimed by creditors.

bridge inside

Godwin died in 1849, setting the stage for a remarkable tribute from King. Over Godwin’s grave in Phenix City, King erected an ornate headstone, for which he paid as much as $1,000, an incredible sum in those times. The inscription on the headstone reads, “This stone was placed here by Horace King in lasting remembrance of the love and gratitude he felt for his friend and former master.”

As a newly independent businessman, King moved about the South building covered bridges in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee. He also built homes, commercial buildings, a state hospital in Alabama, and a three-story textile mill that still stands near Columbus.

But it is his bridges that seem to have captured people’s hearts, and of the several bridges King built in Georgia, this is the only one remains in use today.

Leave a Reply

© 2009 ackdoc - Greg Hinson, MD 508/325-9981 Purchasing help RSS feed