Sunday, September 7, 2008

Nashville's Bridges Across the Cumberland River

by Debie Cox
The plan of the first bridge across the Cumberland River was proposed by the citizens of Nashville in 1818. Erected where the present Victory Memorial Bridge is located, at the northeast corner of the Square across to Main Street, it opened in June of 1823. The covered bridge had windows along the sides to provide light. When it was built water craft was small and the structure was only 75 feet above the low water mark. The bridge was demolished in 1851 because the larger steam boats of the mid-century were unable to pass under.

The next bridge across at Nashville, erected in 1850, was a suspension bridge designed by architect Adolphus Heiman. (see note below) The bridge was 700 feet long and 110 feet above low water mark. This structure was at the site of the present Woodland Street Bridge. It was destroyed in the spring of 1862, during the Civil War, when the evacuating Confederate Army cut the suspension cables and the bridge fell into the Cumberland.

After the war, a new bridge was built, using the same support towers. It replaced the suspension bridge at this location. This toll bridge opened in June of 1866. In 1886 a new, stronger bridge was erected. Named the Woodland Street Bridge, it remained in service for 80 years. A new structure at the same site, also called the Woodland Street Bridge, opened December 1, 1966. It was the first Cumberland River bridge built under Metropolitan Government.

In 1949 Governor Gordon Browning signed a bill authorizing construction of a bridge to serve as a memorial to Tennesseans who lost their lives in World War II. The Victory Memorial Bridge opened in May of 1956. Eventually plaques listing the names of every Davidson County resident who died in service during World War II were placed at the west end of the bridge. A dedication ceremony in honor of War dead, held May 30, 1964, was presided over by Mayor Beverly Briley.

The Shelby Avenue Bridge completed in 1909, and the nearly identical Jefferson Street Bridge, completed in 1910, and were built by the Foster and Creighton Company of Nashville.  The Shelby Avenue Bridge crossed the river from Sparkman Street downtown to Shelby Avenue in East Nashville. This bridge had originally been planned to cross from Broadway to East Nashville and the bridge committee was named the Broad Street Bridge Company.  After the downtown crossing was moved south from Broad to Sparkman Street (later McGavock), Sparkman Street, Shelby Avenue and Hay Market Bridge were among the names proposed, but the bridge committee chose "Broadway Bridge" instead.  The bridge came to be called the Sparkman Street Bridge and later the name Shelby Avenue Bridge was unofficially adopted. The Shelby Avenue Bridge was closed to automobile traffic in 1998.

The original 1910 Jefferson Street Bridge, crossing the river from Jefferson Street downtown to Spring Street in East Nashville, was demolished in 1992. A replacement, opened in 1994, was officially dedicated to honor the Rev. Kelly Miller Smith a Nashville civil rights pioneer.

The interstate 65 bridge opened on Jan. 14, 1964. Mayor Briley officially dedicated the bridge and Mrs. Silliman Evans. Sr. cut the ribbon to formally open the bridge. It was named in honor of Tennessean publisher Silliman Evan. A change in the naming of the interstate system in Nashville now has this bridge designated as part of interstate 24.

In May of 2004 the newest bridge to cross the Cumberland at downtown Nashville opened. Originally named the Gateway Bridge, but renamed in Jan. 2006 by the Metro Council as the “Korean War Veterans Memorial Bridge,” the span connects East Nashville to downtown. The six lane, 1660 foot long span replaced the historic Shelby Avenue Bridge which now serves as a pedestrian bridge.

Republican Banner Sept 19, 1850.  The article says the architect was Captain Fields.

Originally Published June 28, 2005, Updated 2017.
Copyright © 2005, Debie Cox.