Historic Structures

Tennessee River Railroad Bridge, Florence Alabama

Date added: July 20, 2021 Categories: Alabama Bridges

A ferry was in existence at this location in 1832, probably having been licensed by county authorities some time between 1818 and 1832 in accordance with an Alabama Act approved December 12, 1827, which gave county courts such authority.

Alabama Act approved January 12, 1832 covered the incorporation of the Florence Bridge Company and authorized a bridge to be built, without any description of its nature being given. Tolls were not to exceed ferry rates then current. The stock subscription was to be $60,000, plus $35,000 stock which was to be given the Ferry Company for the value of its investment in ferry landings and ferry equipment. Alabama Act approved December 23, 1837 amended the 1832 Act by allowing the Florence Bridge Company to sue stock subscribers who did not pay up.

The Florence Bridge Company completed the first bridge in 1840. One source describes it as being of timber spans about 8 in number. In 1854 wind storm damage occurred and in 1855 damage again occurred to the extent that this bridge was no longer used. Some sources say that the 1855 damage was from wind, others that it was from flood.

About 1857 the Memphis and Charleston Railroad acquired the property and franchise of the Florence Bridge Company, including the piers, and proceeded with the construction of a combination railway and wagon bridge, with the railway deck on the upper level. The October 5, 1859 issue of the Florence Gazette reported the bridge open for wagons, and the issue of December 7, 1859, with the first regular train schedule being effective December 7, 1859. No description of this bridge is available but it probably was mostly of timber on stone piers. It was burned by Helm's Confederate Cavalry in 1863 for military reasons.

In 1869-1870 the bridge was rebuilt by the M&C, using spans as described in M&C annual report of July 1, 1869. This bridge accommodated wagons on lower level as before and was completed in 1870.

In 1887 the Nashville, Florence and Sheffield Railroad Company, predecessor of L&N, built into Florence from the north, and by agreement of August 17, 1887, acquired the right to use the bridge jointly with the N&C. A valuation of the property was agreed on but no record has been found of the details of it except as later partially quoted in the negotiations leading to a new agreement in 1892, N.F.&S. payments were to be 50% of interest of 6% on investment and in ratio of car count applied to maintenance cost (less toil revenues).

Annual reports of the Chief of Engineers, U.S. Army, show that the 1890 drawbridge construction came as a result of notices issued by the U.S. Army District Engineer, Chattanooga, to the STV&G on November 20. 1888 and to the M&C on January 11, 1889. (Volume 88, pp. 2638-2642; Volume 89, p. 374; Volume 90, p. 339; Volume 91, p. 435). The last reference is with respect to a notice to cut masonry back to clear the channel. The references given do not include the text of the notices. The 1890 construction included the drawspan and also the short span south of it. For some unknown reason this short span was replaced in 1906 at the same time that new machinery for the drawspan was installed.

On October 18, 1891 a train fell through the north approach and an outside engineer, Mr. Edwin Thatcher, made an investigation and report. His recommendations led to a new agreement of July 12, 1892, in which the N.F.&S. paid for their use of the bridge by applying car count ratio to the railroad usage percent of interest on investment and maintenance cost, which percentage was set at 78.4 percent. Mr. Thatcher's recommendation also led to the replacement in 1892 to 1894 of all superstructure except the drawspan and the short span immediately south of it, these two spans having been built in 1890.

The operation of street cars over the upper deck of the bridge probably started in 1903 in accordance with an agreement with the Sheffield Company dated February 14, 1903, which had a term of 30 years, and which required the Sheffield Company to pay the Sou. Ry. 20% of fares collected and not less than 2 cents per passenger, except by mutual consent. A supplement agreement of August 23, 1907 has to do with interlocking expense, mail handling, etc. A supplemental agreement of December 28, 1909 reduced the 2 cent figure quoted in the original agreement to 1 cent. By release of May 12, 1919 the Sheffield Company surrendered its mail and passenger handling privileges to the Director-General of Railroads and in 1921 this arrangement was cancelled and operations as they were prior to May 12, 1919 were resumed. by memorandum agreement of May 31, 1926 the Alabama Power Company took over the operations and responsibilities of the Sheffield Company. The date of termination of street car operation was not found, but a statement made in 1933 said "electric car service was abandoned some years ago". No record was found of income from street car operations.

Southern Bell telephone lines over the bridge were covered by agreement of April 18, 1910, superseded by agreement of October 2, 1943, the later agreement being cancelled May 1, 1948.

Alabama Power Company power lines over the bridge were covered by agreement of September 1, 1933, which agreement was cancelled as of June 7, 1943. The Sou. Ry. acquired the power lines by quit-claim deed of June 7, 1943.

An agreement of May 3, 1921 with the City of Florence makes reference to an agreement of October 5, 1918 between the Director General of railroads and the City of Florence whereby the Director General leased the highway portion of the bridge to the City for $10,000 per annum with the City to maintain the highway portion. The 1921 agreement says federal control stopped on February 29, 1920, and that the rental between March 1, 1920 and February 28, 1921 would be compromised at $4,000, taking into account railway expenditures during this period and other factors. The railway company agreed to pay the city up to $8,500 for repair of floor and widening of roadway, after which the City was to maintain the highway portion at its expense. The yearly rental specified in the 1921 agreement was $3,000. Affidavit of December 14, 1922 shows the City spent $13,134.10 for the repair and widening mentioned above, $8,500 of which had been contributed by the railway company. It may be implied from information in the 1921 agreement that the City took over the collection of tolls on or about October 5, 1918.

By agreement of February 18, 1926, the highway portion was leased to Colbert County and Lauderdale County for a 3-year term at $3,000 per annum, with the counties to maintain at their expense. Some years later a newspaper article says the bridge was made a free bridge in 1925. This change may have been coincident with the February 18, 1926 agreement.

By agreement of March 25, 1929 the Alabama Highway Department leased the highway portion for a five year term at $3,000 per annum, with maintenance at their expense.

Upon completion of a new highway bridge immediately downstream, highway traffic was transferred to it on October 26, 1939, and the timber portion of highway deck on the railroad bridge was removed by the state highway department immediately thereafter.

In 1925 the L&N and Sou. agreed by exchange of letters that the 78.4 percent fixed in the 1892 agreement would be changed to 100%, effective 1920, during which year federal control terminated, and after which the highway expenses and income were to others.

Newspaper references were found to train accidents of 1896 and 1906, the references having been written years later. No support was found as to the 1906 incident but former L&N Supervisor Haynes advises there was an accident about 1896 involving an engine falling off or through the 154' span into the river near the south end of the bridge, Locomotive engineer Clem getting out alive. No evidence of repair of this span is found at the site, possibly due to replacement of any damaged parts, if any, strictly in kind.

The T.V.A. was ordered by the Federal Court at Florence. Alabama to improve navigation clearance through the horizontal turn span and the bridge was closed to rail traffic in 1961. The turn span and adjacent fixed span were removed and a 406' vertical lift span with flanking tower spans were installed. The work was completed in 1962. During construction, rail traffic was rerouted via other L&N connections to and from Florence. Upon completion. Southern Railway Company paid T.V.A. $135,000 as its apportionment of the total cost of $3,500,000.

Prior to 1970, a drawtender was continuously on duty and the bridge was closed to river traffic, being opened by the drawtender on signals sounded by river traffic. Due to a general decline in rail traffic on both the Southern Railway and L&N Railroad. the bridgetender was assigned to one shift from 8:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M. with rail traffic confined to these hours. The bridge was left unattended in a raised position throughout the rest of the day. Rail traffic over the bridge continued to decline and on April 10, 1986, the L&N cancelled the operating agreement with Southern Railway and discontinued their operations over the bridge.

On July 11, 1988, Southern Railway sold 1.4 miles of track in Florence to the Tennessee Southern Railroad Company, who now operates a short line serving the rail customers in Florence via their L&N connection.

On August 3, 1988 Southern Railway petitioned the ICC to abandon 2.7 miles of the remaining Florence branch which included the bridge over the Tennessee River. On September 6. 1988. the ICC granted the abandonment. The bridge was demolished in 1990.