Thursday, October 4, 2012

The First Bridge Over The Cumberland

A few years ago I wrote an article about the bridges across the Cumberland at Nashville.  You can find the article here - Nashville Bridges 

I hope to follow each bridge in depth from its conception to completion with news articles and government records.  I am going to begin here with the first bridge.

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....

Most of the following newspaper articles were found in the papers of Samuel A. Weakley [TSLA AC# 1330-2] and in the collection of Judge Litton Hickman [Metro Nashville Archives]. 
Nashville Whig, Saturday November 28, 1818
A meeting of the citizens of Nashville will be held at Talbot's Hotel on Monday evening next in order to take into consideration the propriety of a bridge across the Cumberland River at this place.  We hope every citizen who has the welfare of the town at heart will attend in order to give facility to an object of so much importance to the citizens of this place and the country at large.  We are happy to see the public spirit manifested on this subject, for we have long wished to see a bridge across the river here; as well for the convenience of the public at large as for the improvement of Nashville, which has already become a place of considerable commercial importance, and by the acquisition of a bridge many facilities would be rendered which are now impossible.

Nashville Whig, Saturday July 3, 1819

The undersigned, having been appointed a committee of the Board of Directors of the NASHVILLE BRIDGE COMPANY to correspond with and receive proposals from any qualified workman who may be willing to undertake and complete a bridge over the CUMBERLAND RIVER opposite Nashville, this is, therefore, to give notice to all persons who may be willing to engage in this undertaking that the sum of ONE HUNDRED AND TEN THOUSAND DOLLARS is subscribed by the company for the above purpose.  The River Cumberland is about six hundred feet wide, having a rock bluff on the town side for an abutment, but the other bank is sandy.  The river is about from eight to ten feet in low water, having a rock bottom for most part across, and during the time of floods it rises sometimes as high as forty feet, which will require the piers to be built at least fifty feet high.  The country above Nashville will furnish the best kind of timber for the woodwork and at the town site there is a great quantity of stone well calculated for raising the piers. 
Robert Weakley
Andrew Hynes
John Shelby
May 20 1819                                                               Commissioners

National Intelligencer, Aurora, Richmond Enquirer, Boston Patriot and New York Columbian will publish the above 3 months and forward their account to this office for payment.

Nashville Gazette, July 31, 1819

Nashville Bridge – An installment of $5.00  on each share of the Capital stock to the Nashville Bridge Company is required to be paid into the hands of the Treasurer on Tuesday the 31st August next.
By order of the Board.
                                                                        JOHN SHELBY, TREA’R
July 31.

Nashville Whig, September 18, 1822

Distressing accident.—On Monday last, while the hands were at work on the bridge over the Cumberland, a part of the scaffolding gave way, and several of them fell into the river from the height of sixty or seventy feet.  A man by the name of Kean was killed and five or six others wounded, some of them dangerously.

Nashville Whig – Wednesday, June 11, 1823

Nashville Bridge-- The bridge across the Cumberland river at this place is so far completed that horses, carriages, ect. now pass over it.

Nashville Whig – Wednesday, July 21, 1823

Nashville Bridge-- Extract from the By-laws and rules adopted by the Directors of the Nashville Bridge Company, Sec. 4  Be it resolved, that the following rules, by-laws and regulations shall be observed by the gate-keeper and by all persons in using, passing or being on said bridge to wit:  It shall not be lawful for any person or persons, having or driving any drove of horses, mules, cattle or hogs to drive or pass on said bridge in one drove at the same time in more than the following number to wit:   Horses, mules or cattle, not more than ten head; of hogs not more than twenty head; and it shall not be lawful for any loaded wagon to pass on or cross said bridge within less than one hundred yards of another loaded wagon;  and that it shall not be lawful for any person passing over said bridge on horseback or with a cart, wagon or carriage or with a drove of horses, mules, cattle or hogs to make any delay on said bridge except such as is unavoidable; and it shall not be lawful for any person riding on horseback or driving any cart, wagon or carriage on said bridge or driving any drove of horses, mules, cattle or hogs over same to ride or drive faster than a walk.
It shall not be lawful for any foot passenger to travel on the road allowed for horses and carriages at the time that there is any horses or drove of horses, mules or cattle or any wagon, cart or carriage passing thereon except it be such person as shall have the same in charge, nor shall  it be lawful for any foot passenger to molest, disturb or frighten any horse or drove of horses, mules, cattle or hogs, when passing on said bridge.
It shall not be lawful for any person to carry over or have on said bridge any coal or chunk of fire, nor to smoke or carry with him on said bridge any lighted segar or pipe; and if any person or persons shall willfully commit a violation of any of the rules above described he, she or they, so offending shall be subject to pay the sum of five dollars, or every such offence, to be recovered before any tribunal having jurisdiction thereof by a warrant in the name of the Nashville Bridge Co., for the use of the said company.
It shall be the duty of all foot passengers to pass the footway on the right hand as they are going; and it shall be the duty of all passengers on horseback or driving any wagon, cart or other wheel carriage, or driving any drove of horses, mules, cattle, sheep or hogs to pass over on the right hand way.
It shall not be lawful for the gate-keeper to permit any slave to pass said bridge at any time after nine o’clock at night and before day light in the morning without a written pass from his or her master or mistress expressing such permission.
                                                                                    Robert Weakley,        
                                                                        President, Nashville Bridge Co.
July 21, 1823

Nashville Whig, January 26, 1824.  

 Nashville Bridge – The undersigned who had the management of the Bridge for the last six months, begs leave to inform the public that he has rented it for the term of one year.  He now tenders its use to the public and proposes to let out to families or individuals for the above term, the privilege of crossing on it, and pledges himself to do so if applied to, on the most reasonable terms.  Persons who reside on the north side of the river are particularly invited to call on the undersigned, as he believes they will find it very much to their advantage to enter into the arrangement proposed.  There will be a keeper of the gate who will be ready at all times to attend to the calls of those wishing to pass on urgent business, without regard to time.

The undersigned will endeavor to do everything necessary on his part to afford satisfaction, and hopes to merit a share of public patronage.
Jan. 12.                                                                                    ANDREW MORRISON

A note concerning Greenwood Payne from Samuel A. Weakley papers – “The keeper of the bridge, from its beginning until it was removed in 1851, was Greenwood Payne.  He was evidently a methodical person, and interested in the behavior of the river for he recorded the height of each of the high waters during the life of the structure.  Several years ago the writer [Samuel A. Weakley] made and extensive search for the descendants of Greenwood Payne in an effort to locate this valuable record, but it was without success.  However several records of the high stages of the river were printed in the Nashville papers from time to time….”


Nashville Whig, January 26, 1824

The Nashville Bridge.  This elegant piece of architecture, so useful to the public, and ornamental to our town, has never yet been noticed in any manner adequate to its value and importance.  As a superstructure of elegance and durability, it is conceived to be equal, perhaps superior to any of the kind in the United States:  This has been the observation of persons from a distance who have seen most of the celebrated works of this kind.  It is the workmanship of Messrs. Samuel Stacker and Johnston of Pittsburgh….at the price of $75,000.  The bridge is 560 feet from end to end and, 40 feet in breadth and 75 feet in height, from river to low water.

The superstructure consists of three arches, each 187 feet long, butting against each other, resting in one continued chord, supported by the abutments and piers.  Versed sine, or rise, from the chord to the apex, is 6 feet; the curve formed by this arch is not, however, that of the segment of one great circle, but of segments of circles of unequal radii, those of the largest radii being next to the abutments, and the shortest at the vertex.  The superstructure at the abutments 28 feet wide, and at the apex of the centre arch 25 ½ feet.  This forms a catenarian arch on the outside of the bridge, and prevents lateral motion.  The ribs composing the arches are set in cast iron head blocks and butt against each other with the exception of about a foot where wedges are inserted; by spreading on these wedges the arches can be set up, and the floor raised to any height required.  (This is considered an improvement of the first magnitude in the erection of wooden bridges.)  The design and principle on which this Bridge is built is the same as those of Shaffhausen and Wittengen in Switzerland.

The ribs, ring posts, and string pieces are connected and secured by ties, braces, and bars of iron in such a manner as to form one connected and combined whole, equal in strength, perhaps, to anything within the compass of human invention on a similar scale.   This Bridge consists of three abutments – one is founded on solid rock with the intervention of 2 feet of gravel.  It is about 70 feet long, 20 thick, and 80 high, with rings extending into the bank 80 feet – it batters on inch to the foot, on all outsides, together with several offsets, which reduce it to 52 feet long and 24 thick where the superstructure rests.  It also overhangs on the inside to prevent the filling from protruding out the side.  The open space in this abutment required 3,000 yards of filling, which was done with lose rock and clay  sufficient to make it compact.  The piers are 70 feet long, 24 wide and 80 high.  The sides and lower end batter one inch to the foot, upstream and forming a right angle, fall back 1 ½ inches per foot.  They are founded on a platform of wood, 75 feet long, 27 wide and 7 deep.  The wooden part of the Bridge is handsomely executed with ornamental fronts at each end, the whole covered in neatly and painted white.  The pillars are composed of the limestone rock common to the country, which is admirably adapted to the erection of the best workmanship.

The Bridge belongs to a company of stockholders, incorporated by act of assembly; and its affairs are entrusted to the management of a Board of Directors, chosen annually.  They have leased it out for the present year to Mr. Andrew Morrison at $5,300 per annum, being at the rate of 7% on the amount of cost, exclusive of repairs.

Memorandum of materials:          Cubic feet of timber, 20,000
                                                            Wrought Iron, 21 tons
                                                            Cast Iron, 5 tons


The New York Times, November 21, 1851.
The old bridge at Nashville, Tenn., which was erected about 26 years since, at a cost of $100,000, tumbled down on the 12th, to the great joy of the people. It had long been a serious obstruction to the river.

All material collected and transcribed by Debie Oeser Cox.

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