|Horace King, Bridge Builder
by Thomas L. French, Jr., and Edward L. French
article is a reprinting of a piece that appeared in issue
11 (Winter 1989) of Alabama Heritage, pp. 34-47.
Copyright The University of Alabama. All rights reserved.
Click images to enlarge. ]
blacks in the antebellum South led precarious lives. Respected
by slaves, with whom they shared skin color but not bondage, free
persons of color were often feared by whites, who suspected they
might be the fuse with which Northern abolitionists ignited a slave
rebellion in the South. To prevent such an occurrence, Southern
whites passed a series of laws throughout the first half of the
nineteenth century restricting the actions of free blacks.
As early as 1822, free blacks in Alabama were forbidden to keep taverns or sell liquor. By 1832 it was illegal to teach free blacks and slaves to read and write; laws also prevented free blacks from immigrating to Alabama. By 1835 newly emancipated slaves were required by law to leave the state at once. Despite these efforts, the number of free blacks in Alabama slowly increased—from 500 in 1819, to 2,039 in 1840, to 2,690 in 1860, when the number of slaves in the state totaled 435,080. By 1861, on the eve of the Civil War, white fears of an impending slave insurrection reached a peak, and some newspapers, like the Huntsville Southern
Advocate, proposed laws "requiring that all free persons of color found in the State after a certain specified day should be immediately advertised and sold into slavery."
In spite of this inhospitable legal climate, a number of free blacks made reasonably good livings in antebellum Alabama. Most lived in cities where they worked in the trades—as carpenters, teamsters, blacksmiths, barbers, cooks, and cigar makers. Their contribution to the economic well-being of Southern society was not lost on many whites. Even the Alabama legislature, on occasion, passed laws freeing certain blacks and exempting them from the requirement that they leave the state. One such free black was Horace King, who began life as a slave, gained his freedom, and managed to forge a singular path through the minefield of antebellum Southern society to become Alabama's foremost bridge builder and one of the South's most respected engineers.
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Information on Horace King's early years is scanty. He was born a slave in the Chesterfield District of South Carolina on September 8, 1807. His father was a mulatto named Edmund King; his mother, Susan (or Lucky), was the daughter of a full-blooded Catawba Indian and a black female slave. In the winter of 1829, Horace King's master died, and King and his mother became the property of John Godwin, a South Carolina house builder and bridge contractor.
John Godwin and his slave Horace King built the first bridge—known as City Bridge, later as the Dillingham Bridge—over
the Chattahoochee River connecting Columbus, Georgia, with Girard
(now Phenix City), Alabama, in 1832. The bridge is pictured here
(From Vues et Souvenirs de l'Amerique du Nord by Francois
de Castelnau, courtesy DeRenne Collection, Hargrett Rare Book
and Manuscript Library, University of Georgia Libraries)
Godwin, the son of a prominent South Carolina businessman, was interested, as were many young men of the day, in seeking his fortune in the Deep South, particularly in the growing states of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. The expanding nation was developing westward, and crude roads were being built, many of which, especially in Alabama, traversed rivers and streams that were passable only at fords or by ferries. Here was a region, as Godwin realized, where unlimited opportunities were available for a clever and experienced bridge builder.
John Godwin was both. He was well versed in the bridge-building
innovations of Connecticut architect Ithiel Town. It is possible
that Godwin had even worked with Town himself beginning in 1822
when the architect came to supervise the construction of a bridge
he had designed to span the Pee Dee River at Cheraw, South Carolina. [Update 1] Town's design, which he had patented in 1820 and called
was an entirely new system of wooden framework that could be erected
using inexpensive common sawmill lumber and the labor of any carpenter's
It is likely that Horace King also became acquainted with Town's innovative truss design at the Pee Dee River bridge site. Perhaps he helped construct the bridge. Perhaps it was here that he first became acquainted with Godwin. What is certain is that both Godwin and his servant King were familiar with the Town Lattice Truss before they left South Carolina for Columbus, Georgia, in 1832.
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Horace King (1807-1885), a slave who was freed by his master
in 1846, became one of the most respected bridge builders in
Georgia and Alabama during the nineteenth century. (Courtesy
the early 1830s, Columbus—located across
the Chattahoochee River
from what became Girard (settled in 1832; now a part of Phenix
City), Alabama—was the largest of the few raw border towns scattered
along the river. Until 1832, the vast tract of land to the west
of Columbus belonged to the Creek Indians. Encompassing what is
today Barbour, Calhoun, Chambers, Coosa, Macon, Lee, Randolph,
Russell, Talladega, and Tallapoosa counties, this land was ceded
to Alabama by the Creeks at the Treaty of Cusseta, March 24, 1832,
thus opening the way for further westward expansion of the United
rush of immigrants who would flock to the newly opened territory,
one Georgia investor in 1831 established a ferry across the Chattahoochee
one mile south of Columbus. To the investor's disappointment, however,
Columbus developed to the north, not the south, and to make matters
worse, city officials decided that their growing city needed a
bridge, not a ferry, to connect Georgia and the newly opened territory
in Alabama. Despite protests from the “south end,” the city fathers
advertised for bids in the local paper. [Update
When the ad was brought to
the attention of John Godwin, he quickly submitted a bid, which
was accepted by city officials in March 1832. Thus, Godwin and
his slave Horace moved to Columbus to construct the first public
bridge over the Chattahoochee. The company, known as John Godwin,
Bridge Builder, commenced work "with a large force" in May. In
July they advertised in the Columbus Enquirer for "two or three Stone Masons, to work
on the Piers of the Columbus Bridge, to whom liberal wages will be
paid...." In August the same paper noted with pride that "a very
handsome Bridge, which, when finished, will add very much to the
beauty and convenience of the town," was well underway. When
completed, the 900-foot-long covered bridge, designed in the
Town truss mode, earned Godwin and King reputations as master
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Apparently, from the beginning of their relationship, King was more of a junior partner in Godwin's company than a slave. Godwin developed proposals; King supervised construction. With the success of the Columbus crossing, known first as City Bridge and later as the Dillingham Bridge, Godwin began to bid on and win other contracts for covered bridges across the Chattahoochee. He and King built a 540-foot-long bridge south of Columbus at Irwinton (now Eufaula), Alabama, for $22,000. They constructed a bridge at West Point, Georgia, in 1838-39; they built another at Tallassee, Alabama, and they may have built another at Florence, Alabama, in 1839.
Because of the superior workmanship on the bridges King supervised,
Godwin was able to guarantee his bridges for five years, even
against floods. And when flood-related damage did occur, Godwin
took full responsibility. The flood of February and March 1841,
known as the "Harrison Freshet" (named for the ninth president
of the United States, William Henry Harrison, who died of pneumonia
in April of that year), destroyed a portion of the bridge south
of Columbus at Florence, Georgia, and swept away almost the entire
City Bridge in Columbus. Godwin repaired both spans quickly.
The Florence bridge was reopened to traffic by mid-April of that
same year, and Godwin rebuilt the City Bridge within only five
months. Horace King's skill and ingenuity made these feats possible.
addition to building bridges, King probably also worked on the important
houses that the Godwin firm built around Girard and Columbus during
the 1830s and 1840s. Perhaps he supervised the slave workmen said
to have remodeled U.S. Senator Seaborn Jones' home, "Eldorado." [Update
4] Certainly King worked for Jones, who hired him to build
City Mills north of Fourteenth Street in Columbus. King also
worked on the Muscogee County Courthouse (1838) in Columbus,
and the Russell County Courthouse (1841) in Crawford, Alabama.
And he continued to build bridges for Godwin.
The Irwinton or Eufaula (Alabama) Bridge across the Chattahoochee River was built by King in 1838. Over 800 feet in length and breathtaking in height—65 to 70 feet—the bridge stood until 1929 when it was torn down. (Courtesy Thomas L. French, Jr. Collection)
King's precise contribution to the design modifications evident over the years in Godwin's bridges can only be speculated upon. The bridges King supervised contained additional intermediate chords, a feature that strengthened the trusses against twisting with age (Town himself had tried to correct this problem by doubling the number of web members). Some of King's bridges contained pier foundations formed by combining sand with timbers of heart pine. Also improved over time were the procedures King employed in erecting or assembling—without power machinery—vast
trusses over water. Whether or not King was responsible for these
innovations, he was certainly responsible for the care and efficiency
with which these structures were erected. Indeed, King's ability
to supervise massive construction projects and to elicit superior
workmanship from mixed gangs of laborers, both slave and free, impressed
some of the most successful businessmen in the South.
One of these
men was Robert Jemison, Jr., of Tuscaloosa, a lawyer and state senator, a prosperous planter, and the owner of a large and well organized network of interrelated businesses, including a stagecoach line, a turnpike and bridge company, and extensive saw mill operations. In the early 1840s, Jemison began contracting with Godwin for bridges in west Alabama, coordinating the contracts so that his mills supplied lumber for the projects while Godwin furnished the carpenters. Horace King supervised construction. After several joint ventures with Godwin and King, Jemison wrote to Godwin in 1845: "Please to add another testimonial to the style and dispatch with which [Horace King] has done his work as well as the manner in which he has conducted himself."
While King's reputation as a builder spread, his personal life prospered.
In 1839, King had married Frances Thomas whose ancestry was similar to his own: she was part black, part Creek Indian, and part Caucasian, the daughter of a free woman of color named Molly. The couple produced four sons—Washington, Marshall Ney, John Thomas, and George, all of whom became successful contractors—and one daughter, Annie Elizabeth (or Frances), who also worked in the family business. [Update
As King's fortunes rose, however, those of his master declined. By 1846 Godwin had suffered a series of financial setbacks. Realizing that King could be taken from him to settle debts with his creditors, Godwin arranged with Robert Jemison to petition the Alabama General Assembly for King's release from slavery. Jemison succeeded, and on February 3, 1846, Horace King became a free man.
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The 500-foot-long Franklin Street Bridge spanning the Chattahoochee River at Columbus, Georgia, was built by King in 1862. Partially destroyed during the Civil War, the bridge was restored by King in 1867. It is shown here being dismantled c. 1904. (Courtesy Columbus College Archives)
The next decades were particularly productive for King. He built a bridge across the Flint River at Albany, Georgia, as well as a bridge house that functioned as a portal to the span. That project, completed in 1858, had been the special interest of Albany entrepreneur Nelson Tift, an energetic and inventive businessman interested in developing south Georgia's economic resources. Having failed to interest either the city or the county in his bridge-building idea, Tift decided to undertake the project himself. To oversee construction he hired Horace King. At the time, King was preparing to build a bridge over the Oconee River near Milledgeville. He had already cut timbers at the site when a disagreement over terms arose between King and his employers in the Milledgeville area. Unable to resolve the disagreement, King shipped the cut timbers by rail to Albany, thus becoming perhaps the first builder in the South to prefabricate a major structure and ship it to the construction site.
As a free man, King also continued to work with Jemison on a variety of projects. Jemison, a member of the state house ways and means committee, may have helped King secure work on the second Montgomery statehouse, constructed in 1850-51. Jemison and King bid on construction for Madison Hall, a dormitory at the University of Alabama, but did not get the bid. Jemison also consulted with King during one of the most massive construction projects undertaken in antebellum Alabama—the building of the Alabama Insane Hospital (Bryce) in Tuscaloosa, completed in 1860.
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During the 1850s, John Godwin's fortunes continued to decline, primarily because of the failure of the Girard-Mobile Railroad in which Godwin had invested heavily. When Godwin died in 1859, his estate was insolvent, although the family still owned their large sawmill operation in Girard. The Godwin children, worried that King could be held accountable for their father's debts, took one further step to ensure his freedom by formally recording in the Russell County Courthouse that "the said Horace King is duly emancipated and freed from all claims held by us."
Even after John Godwin's death, King remained close to the Godwin
family, helping Godwin's son run the failing family business.
King publicly stated his affection for his former master on a
large Masonic monument that he purchased for $600 and erected
on Godwin's grave. [Update
6] The inscription reads:
Born Oct. 17, 1798. Died Feb. 26, 1859.
This stone was placed here by Horace King,
in lasting remembrance of the love and gratitude
he felt for his lost friend and former master.
In addition, King quietly provided for his former master's family. According to one of King's contemporaries, Godwin's "children became [King's] wards at his own option."
King family recollections hold that at the time the Civil War broke out King and his son Marshall Ney were visiting friends in Ohio where King was inducted into the Masons, an affiliation that would prove useful after the fall of the Confederacy. [Update
Soon after the hostilities began, King returned to the Chattahoochee Valley, apparently to manage the Godwin mill and contracting business for the Godwin family while John Godwin's son served as an artillery captain in the Confederate army. King also brought his other sons into the operation—John Thomas, Washington, and George. [Update
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Robert Jemison, Jr., prominent Tuscaloosa planter, legislator, and the owner of a network of interrelated construction and transportation businesses, recommended King highly to other businessmen. "I regard Horace as the best practicing Bridge Builder in the South," Jemison wrote in 1854. "He has worked for me while bond & free. I have never dealt or settled with a more correct and honest man of any colour." (Courtesy
William Stanley Hoole Special Collections Library, University
war years were difficult for King personally (his wife died in 1864)
and professionally, as he tried to hold the Godwin family operation together and to continue to work on his own. But construction jobs were plentiful. In 1863, James H. Warner, chief engineer for the Confederate navy, hired King (not the Godwin firm) to build a rolling mill for the Confederacy. Records from 1863 and 1864 show that King supplied logs, treenails (wooden pegs), large oak beams, oak knees, and 15,630 board feet of lumber for the construction of the Confederate ironclad gunboat Jackson.
King suffered the same vicissitudes as other Southern businessmen who worked for the Confederacy. Once, at the end of the war, Federal troops passing through Girard took two of his best mules. After considerable difficulty, King retrieved the mules, with apologies from the Union officers, after King proved to them that he was a Mason. [Update
9]In some respects, he had less luck with the Confederate government, who paid him in currency that ultimately proved worthless. King’s descendants kept the Confederate money until the 1920s, when they threw it out as “trash,” and King himself never again accepted payment in any currency but silver coin. [Update 10]
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Spring Villa, a mid-nineteenth century home still standing near Opelika, Alabama, is attributed to the craftsmanship of Horace King. King reportedly built the house for Mr. and Mrs. William Penn C. Yonge, the son-in-law and daughter of John Godwin, King's former master. (From Historic American Buildings Survey)
After the war, King's fortunes rose again. His sons, and later, his daughter, joined him in business, forming the King Brothers Bridge Company, and together they rebuilt bridges, factories, and other structures that had been destroyed during the war. In 1865 they built a four-story wooden factory on the Chattahoochee about two miles north of Columbus for J. R. Clapp. In 1869 they rebuilt the City Mill in Columbus for Duer, Pridger, and Stapler (the tin-covered factory building still stands today), and in 1870, they completed a railroad bridge across the Chattahoochee for the Mobile and Girard Railroad, a project they had begun in 1860 but had to abandon.
Gradually, King began to turn the business over to his children, primarily to John Thomas who became head of the family in his father's declining years. In 1869, King, now age 62, married Sarah Jane McManus, about whom little is known except that she was thirty-five years her husband's junior. King also pursued interests outside the company. Urged by friends to seek public office, he allowed his name to be entered into the race for the Alabama House of Representatives. He won election twice, both times without actively campaigning, and served from 1868 to 1872. While in the legislature, King introduced several bills, one providing for "the relief of laborers and mechanics." Another required Russell County's commissioners to employ convicts sentenced to hard labor to work on "the public highways and public works of said county." He also served as a member of the standing committee on the capitol.
In addition to his legislative post, King served as magistrate for Russell County for a period after the war, and in 1870 he served as registrar in Girard and as compiler of the census in Beat 4 of Russell County.
In the 1870s, the family moved from Alabama to La Grange, Georgia.
The reasons for the move are unclear. Perhaps John Thomas had
decided that business prospects were better there. Or, perhaps
the move had something to do with Horace King's interest in the
work of the Freedmen's Bureau, the federal agency established
to help safeguard blacks from any form of re-enslavement. Education
for blacks had long been a concern of King and his eldest son,
who believed in the old axiom, "Ignorance breeds poverty." Horace King hoped to establish a "small colony" in Coweta or Carroll County, Georgia, where former slaves, both men and women, could study. It was not intended to be a utopian community, but simply a school designed to teach men trades and women "the domestic arts." Records indicate that the idea was blessed by Brigadier General Wager T. Swayne, assistant commissioner of the Freedmen's Bureau for Alabama, and by his superior, Colonel C. C. Sibley, Assistant Commissioner, District of Georgia, but no records have been discovered that tell us whether or not the colony was established.
Throughout the 1870s, the King Brothers' construction firm continued to prosper, building a new chapel for the Southern Female College (1875-76) at La Grange, Georgia; King himself laid the cornerstone and spoke from the platform at the accompanying ceremonies. They also built LaGrange Academy (c. 1875), that city's first black school, as well as the Warren Chapel Methodist Church and parsonage (c. 1875), also in LaGrange.
Horace King began construction on the Mobile & Girard railroad
bridge prior to the Civil War but the company's financial difficulties
prevented him from completing the project. In this 1868 view,
the rock piers (right side of engraving) are still void of the
rail deck. King completed the bridge in 1870. The covered span
in the center of the engraving is the Dillingham Street Bridge.
(From Harper's Weekly, September 18, 1868)
By the 1880s Horace King was enjoying a prosperous old age, comfortable in the
home he had built for himself in LaGrange. Despite serious bouts with arthritis,
King, a lifelong equestrian, spent his remaining years raising and riding fine
horses. Occasionally he would stroll down the main street of town wearing a velvet-lapel
suit. One observer, the Rev. Francis LaFayette Cherry, described the elderly
King in 1883 as displaying "wonderful
vigor for his years. In person he is a little above medium size and height, with
a complexion showing more his Indian blood than any other. His countenance is
broad and open, eyes keen and black....His hair is nearly straight and almost
as white as snow, and he wears a small tuft of grey beard under his lower lip....He
is never demonstrative, and is choice in the selection of words without appearing
to be so."
Horace King (front row, left) represented Russell County in the Alabama legislature from 1868 to 1872. (Courtesy Alabama State Department of Archives and History)
When King died May 28, 1885, his body, according to family members, was carried "through the town and the men—and ladies too—came out of the shops and stores and stood with their arms folded over their hearts. . . . He was well-respected in that town."
Today King is remembered primarily for his bridges. He and John Godwin had been the first to span the Chattahoochee River, joining Georgia with the new frontier states to the west. Together they had helped to open up the region and blend the Chattahoochee Valley into a single industrial and cultural unit. None of King's major bridges stand today, but the Red Oak Creek Bridge, a small crossing attributed to King, still stands in Meriwether County, Georgia, kept in good repair through the efforts of the Meriwether County Historical Society. Still open to traffic almost a century and a half after its construction, this fine example of a Town Lattice Truss bridge remains a fitting monument to the man Robert Jemison, Jr., in 1854, called "the best practicing Bridge Builder in the South."
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The Town Lattice Truss
Ithiel Town (1784 - 1844)
Master bridge builders John Godwin and Horace King introduced to Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi a type of bridge design that employed the Town Lattice Truss. The truss design itself was created by Connecticut architect Ithiel Town. His first bridges, spanning the Connecticut River, employed the Burr Arch Truss, a design relying on heavy arches that were difficult and expensive to construct. In search of a less expensive truss design, Town devised his own system, patenting it in 1820.
Town's system employed ordinary sawmill lumber, criss-crossed like a garden trellis, double-pegged at each intersection, and stiffened at the top and bottom by long horizontal chords. The resulting trusses formed, in effect, a ribbon of interlocking triangles capable of supporting tremendous weight without sagging, even over spans of 120 feet.
Employing Town's design, local carpenters could easily build single-span bridges over small creeks. But for major river crossings, four hundred to six hundred feet in length, master bridge builders were needed to survey and measure the location, to calculate materials, oversee construction, and elicit precise workmanship from laborers, both slave and free. Horace King, who worked for some twenty years with John Godwin and more than thirty years on his own, excelled at such tasks.
Diagram of the Town Lattice Truss from Town's patent.
The process which King and other bridge builders employed, according to covered bridge historian Herbert Wheat Congdon, may have been something like this:
The timbers for the bridge were laid out on an open field near the bridge site. Here the master builder would assemble a panel or part of a frame, probably marking his line with a sharp knife-blade, rather than a pencil, for greater accuracy. Patterns or templates were carefully copied from this sample for use by the laborers in cutting. Even a trifling error at this point could result later in a sag or a weakening of the truss, and a shorter life for the bridge.
The parts were connected by oak pins, called treenails (pronounced "trunnels"), which were often soaked or boiled in oil to assure durability. The large truss-timbers were arranged on the ground and leveled, and holes were bored for the pins. Again, accuracy was essential.
While this work was underway, other laborers erected bridge abutments in the stream and constructed temporary scaffolding between them. When completed, workers would begin assembling the bridge on the scaffolding, laying first the large timbers, or stringers, the length of the span. This was a particularly delicate task, for the stringers had to be set with a camber so that the middle section was several inches higher than the ends, allowing for the inevitable settling that would occur later.
If all went well, when the bridge was completed and the last of the scaffolding was removed, the bridge would settle a little and all of its parts would tighten into an enduring whole. But if the builder had made an error in his computations, or if his workers had been careless, the bridge might show the effects immediately. When the bridge was completed and all the falsework removed, the builder himself would make the first trip across the bridge in a fully loaded wagon. The structure would come alive with the solid sound of wood against wood as its camber resisted the load. At least one builder was heard to mutter as he headed across his bridge, "If she goes, I'll go with her."
During his lifetime Horace King, employing the Town Lattice Truss design, oversaw the construction of more than twenty-five bridges 500 feet or longer and perhaps a hundred or more lesser spans. On their strength and endurance, he made his reputation.
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Horace King (1807-1885) (Courtesy Theodora Thomas)
Frances Thomas King (1825-1864), wife of Horace King and mother of their five children, was of Negro, Indian, and Caucasian ancestry. (Courtesy The Frenco Collection, Columbus, Georgia)
John Thomas King (1846-1926), began his career as bridge
keeper of the Dillingham Bridge in Columbus. Later, as head of
the King Brothers Bridge Company, he became a prominent contractor
in LaGrange, Georgia, constructing many houses, buildings, and
covered bridges in east-central Alabama and west-central Georgia.
Said to have possessed "the highest moral character" and "infinite
patience and faith," John Thomas became the family leader during
his father's declining years. He also served as trustee of Clark
College in Atlanta and vigorously promoted education for blacks,
believing strongly in the old axiom, "Ignorance breeds poverty." (Courtesy
to the King family Bible, Horace King married Frances Thomas,
the daughter of a free woman of color, on April 28, 1839. Between
1843 and 1850, the couple produced four sons—Washington W., Marshall
Ney, John Thomas, and George—and one daughter, Annie Elizabeth,
all of whom were born in Girard (Phenix City), Alabama. Educated
at home by private tutors and on the job by their father, the
King boys learned their father's trade by working with him in
the Godwin construction and milling firms during the Civil War.
Following the war, King and his sons formed their own construction
business, the King Brothers Bridge Company. Later, Annie Elizabeth
also worked for the family firm.
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Washington W. King (1843-1910) ran pole-boats known as "boxes" on the Chattahoochee River prior to the Civil War. After the war, he worked in the family construction firm and, after his father's death in 1887, he set up his own construction business in the Atlanta area. In 1888 he rebuilt the crossing into Alabama at Fort Gaines, Georgia—the bridge his father had built in 1868. Washington's daughter, Georgia, became a professor of classical languages at Clark College in Atlanta, and his son, Ernest, became the third generation of Kings to enter the bridge-building business. (Courtesy Theodora Thomas)
Annie Elizabeth King (1848-1919) the only daughter of Frances and Horace King, was tutored at
home in Girard. After her marriage ended in divorce, she lived with her brother John and his family. For a time she worked across the river in Columbus as a clerk in a dry goods store. Later she became active in the family business. In LaGrange she joined St. Paul Baptist Church, where she is still honored annually by the Sunday school she organized. (Courtesy Theodora Thomas)
Marshall Ney King (1844-1879), said to be Horace King's favorite son, helped his father run the late John Godwin's construction and milling operation during the Civil War. After the war, Marshall helped organize the King Brothers Bridge Company, where he was actively engaged until his death. (Courtesy Theodora Thomas)
George King (1850-1899) worked before the Civil War with his brother Washington, running pole-boats on the Chattahoochee River. In the 1870s he built several bridges under his own name in Russell County, Alabama, and Muscogee County, Georgia, but the greater part of his life was spent as a member of the King Brothers Bridge Company. Remembered as a hard worker and drinker, a bachelor who avoided churches and neckties, George is said to have objected when the photographer offered to paint a tie on his picture. He died in camp working on a King Brothers bridge. (Courtesy Theodora Thomas)
Updates from the Author
Note: In the nearly two decades since Alabama
published this story, some new information has come forth concerning
King and his bridges. The following reflects the most current available
Town actually arrived in 1824, when Godwin possibly observed his
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Finding the best way to cross the Chattahoochee River in Columbus
proved a challenging task and led to heated debate and protests.
While it was originally believed that the protests originated in
the city’s south end, this research has been contradicted by new information. We know that protests arose, but who led them remains in question.
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Evidence suggesting King and Godwin built a bridge at Florence, Alabama in 1839 has been refuted since the publication of the original article.
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Seaborn Jones was a Congressman, rather than a Senator.
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The nickname "Frances" for King’s daughter Annie Elizabeth
was probably not accurate.
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Original reports showed that King paid $600 for the monument he erected to his former master, John Godwin. However, an August 26, 1859 article in the Dallas
Gazette lists the price as $275.
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King family recollections hold that at the time the Civil War broke out King and his son Marshall Ney were visiting friends in Ohio. These recollections also tend to place his induction into the Masons during this visit. No documented information has been found to substantiate these recollections. However, documented sources tell us that King was inducted into the Masons a few years after the war’s end. The ceremony took place in Montgomery, during King’s service in the Alabama Legislature. Horace King’s active participation in the Prince Hall King Solomon’s
Lodge, No. 4, proved to be an asset in his business relations for
the rest of his career.
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After the start of the Civil War, King returned to Columbus, at the request of
Alabama Governor John Gill Shorter, who asked King to assist with
river blockades. He also managed the Godwin family’s businesses while John Godwin’s son served as an artillery captain in the Confederate Army. King also brought his older sons into the Navy works with him during this time.
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Once, at the end of the war, Federal troops passing through Girard took two of King’s best mules. After considerable difficulty King found the officer who was in command in Columbus, Georgia in late April, 1865, and retrieved the mules. This incident is recorded in King’s own words from interrogatories Claim No, 19961 Act March 3, 1871: “I went to the officer and told him that the Union Army had taken a pair of mules from me the summer before and I had got hold of them and his men had come and taken them from me. That I was no rebel but and had nothing to do with it (the war). But was a Union man and I would be glad if he would return them to me...the officer went and got the mules and returned them himself...they were never taken from me again.”
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King’s apparent preference for silver coin comes from stories carried down through his family.
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King’s service as a Russell County magistrate is documented by Russell County Historian Charles Tigner.
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For readers interested in going further in the story of the remarkable
Horace King, we encourage you to read Bridging
Deep South Waters: The Life and Legend of Horace King (University of Georgia Press,
2004) by John S. Lupold and Thomas L. French Jr.
For more information on covered bridges and Horace King, see:
Richard Sanders Allen, Covered Bridges of the South (Brattleboro, Vermont: The Stephen Greene Press, 1970).
James G. Bogle, "Horace King, 1807-1887, Master Covered Bridge Builder," Georgia
Life, 4 (1980): 33-35.
Rev. F. L. Cherry, "The History of Opelika and Her Agricultural and Tributary Territory," Opelika
Times (1883-1885); reprint, The Alabama Historical Quarterly, 15 (1953): 193-97.
Matthew William Clinton, Tuscaloosa, Alabama: Its Early
Days, 1816-1865 (Tuscaloosa: The Zonta Club, 1958).
Joseph B. Mahan, Thomas L. French, Jr., Edward L. French, and William E. Rowe, Columbus:
Georgia's Fall Line "Trading Town," (Northridge, California: Windsor Publications, Inc., 1986).
Tom Sangster and Dess L. Sangster, Alabama's Covered Bridges (Montgomery: Coffeetable Publications, 1980).
Etta Blanchard Worsley, Columbus on the Chattahoochee (Columbus, Georgia: Columbus Office and Supply Company, 1951).
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About the Author
Tom French, a registered landscape architect and land surveyor, and Larry French, an urban planner and historic preservationist, are a father and son team who work together as partners in the firm French & Associates, Columbus, Georgia. In the early 1970s, when Tom French was teaching a course in mechanical drawing at Pacelli High School in Columbus, he and his class became interested in covered bridges and decided to construct a model. From that beginning, French and his son developed a fascination for these nineteenth-century structures that led them on a four-state journey from the Chesterfield District of South Carolina through Georgia and Alabama to Lowndes County, Mississippi, in search of covered bridges, particularly those built by Horace King.
Subsequently the Frenches have written a book on the subject, Covered Bridges of Georgia (The Frenco Company, Columbus, Georgia, 1984); they have also developed a slide show on Horace King, which they have presented to historical groups in Georgia and Alabama.
The authors and the editors wish to thank William H. Green, Gary and Elizabeth Mills, Elise H. Stephens, Robert O. Mellown, and Robert S. Gamble for research assistance with this article.
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page created 11/15/07