April 2012

Local 92 Reassembles Historic 1882 King Bowstring Bridge

Members of Local 92 (Birmingham, Ala.), working for McAbee Construction in Tuscaloosa, Ala., worked with Dogan Steel to reassemble the historic 1882 King Bowstring Bridge per the original factory specifications.

The 1882 King Bowstring Bridge Relocation Project, put into action by the Friends of Historic Northport (FHN) in 2000, is now complete. The 1882 Bridge is very significant to the history of the Black Warrior River and early development of Northport as a trading center. It is a unique and rare structure, from not only a local perspective, but a national one as well.

Friends had a vision to see the bridge brought back home to become part of a larger bridge park. It served not only as a heritage asset, but also as a tourist attraction and a structure to be visited by schoolchildren, historical groups, and the general public.

Local bridge historian Ken Willis brought the idea of relocating the 1882 Bridge to FHN over a decade ago. The project has educational benefits, as it will give the community a tangible part of their history and it will increase the desire of citizens to know more about their history and heritage. Also, the relocation will offer recreational benefits, as the bridge will be the centerpiece of the Van de Graaff Arboretum and Historic Bridge Park.

The bridge is a unique piece of history—a span of one of three iron and steel bridges that crossed the Black Warrior River between Northport and Tuscaloosa. The 1882 King Bowstring Bridge once crossed the river and was one of four spans that carried many residents, travelers, and needed goods to market from 1882–1896. Spans of the 1882 Bridge were later moved to various parts of the county, crossing the Sipsey River in Echola and the Crabbe Road (Hwy 69) at current-day Lake Tuscaloosa.

The last remaining span crossed North River near the Fayette County line. One of the spans was removed to north Tuscaloosa County for traffic crossing North River. This span served the public until the late 1960s when the bridge was closed. For many years, this part of the history was abandoned, until August 2008 when it was disassembled and brought back to Northport for refurbishing at Dogan Steel.

In the meantime, attempts over the next year to secure a final home for the bridge in Northport were unsuccessful.

In January 2010, members of FHN inquired into acreage near the airport. The land, along Fifth Street west of Northport, was once part of the 4,000 acre Jemison plantation.

A group of Van de Graaff family descendents including Pat Hanson, Cherokee Randolph, William Van de Graaff, John Asa Roundtree III and his heirs along with his wife Helen Updike Roundtree, owned the land and donated it to Friends of Historic Northport to create a 200-acre park now known as Van de Graaff Arboretum and Historic Bridge Park.

Preparation of a site for the bridge and reassembly began soon after May 2010 by McAbee Construction, Dogan Steel, and members of Local 92. Close study by the engineers found something interesting, when the 1882 Bridge was reassembled at North River in the late 1890s; it was not put together as it was from the factory of the King Street Company of Cleveland.

The bridge was reassembled per original factory specifications, which made the bridge stronger than ever.