Nowadays, the bridge is a historical curiosity and a thing of beauty – a rectangular-shaped, wooden structure that is as useful for these reasons as it was when it was built. Its design is called the multiple, open, king-post truss bridge.
A well-respected bridge builder named Horace King, who was also a slave, possibly designed and oversaw the building of the Coldwater Bridge. However, the word “king” may have come from its association with the word “strength,” as the two vertical posts on each side of such bridges allowed the other posts to support the stress of their weight. Also, such bridges supported the weight of vehicles and animals. King-truss bridges have out-lasted those built according to other designs.
No one is for sure when Coldwater Bridge was built, perhaps some time between the 1830s and 1914, according to old news clips and old-timers, whichever one wants to trust. The bridge still stands, though, and is appreciated by the thousands of people who walk through it each year, as it sits a few feet away from the main walking track around Oxford Lake.
Don Hudson, director of Oxford’s Park and Recreation Center, appreciates the treasure.
“It’s a historic piece for the city,” said Hudson. “People have questions about where the bridge came from and how long has it been at Oxford Lake.”
Hudson said having the bridge a few feet from the maintenance shop for the entire Oxford Lake Park allows workers to inspect it daily. It is in good shape, he said.
Visitors to the bridge may peer through the boards on the bridge floor and watch the runoff water from Oxford Lake, as it babbles along over small pebbles of the creek bed. Sometimes, they can see a duck that has hobbled over from the lake to the shadow of the bridge.
If visitors examine the outer boards of the 60-foot-long bridge (one source said 63 feet), they can see bright green moss nestled among the ridges of the weathered boards. Also, gray lichens sit atop the rough-hewn, wooden shingles of the roof, shingles that were not a part of the original bridge. Its covering was once made of tin.
Coldwater Bridge was moved from Coldwater Creek in August of 1990. At that time, it weighed 41,000 pounds, but the shingles have probably added to its weight. Also, at that time, the bridge was renovated, its rotting boards replaced with newer but weathered boards that matched. A present-day examination suggests more may need to be replaced soon.
These are interesting facts to think about as visitors likely scoff at the graffiti that now mars the bridge’s interior boards. Likely, they will forget their scoffing at least momentarily, as they look through the window-like openings on the south side of the bridge to Interstate 20 where vehicles zoom along, or they may take note of the renovation at the nearby Civic Center. The view allows visitors to ponder that which is progressive and new from “inside” something reliable and old.
A matter of concern for history lovers:
Back in the early 1970s, when Coldwater Bridge was still being used as a bridge on what was then U.S. 78 West, a Coldwater resident named Doris Grace, pestered local and state officials to have the bridge designated as a historic site.
She obtained the help of the Coldwater Extension Homemakers Club and county officials to build a new bridge at a cost of $40,000 to divert traffic away from the covered, wooden Coldwater Bridge. (Her self-described “battle-ax” ways also led to National Gypsum Co. to stop polluting Coldwater Creek.)
Other news clips yielded interesting dates related to Coldwater Bridge:
• On May 5, 1973, Coldwater Bridge was named to the National Register of Historic Places.
• Twenty days later, an unidentified truck driver “plowed into” the bridge, tearing away a section of the rafters. Officials closed the bridge for public use.
• On June 19, 1975, there was talk of deeding the bridge to the Alabama Commission so it could be preserved. A law prohibited the Commission to renovate the bridge because the land it sat on was owned by Calhoun County.
• On May 28, 1976, Grace received permission from Ina Miller, who owned land adjacent to the bridge, to donate enough land to build a flat bridge that would take the place of the covered bridge. There was no indication the donation took place.
• In May of 1965, Grace sought fireproof shingles and a fireproof coating for the bridge.
Big changes came next:
The next available news about Coldwater Bridge was when a news article from Aug. 18, 1990, told about the Bridge’s move to Oxford Lake.
Fleming Brothers House Moving Co. of Anniston and Taylor Crane Rental and Rigging Co. of Gadsden worked together to lift the bridge. The heat of the day and anxiety of heavy traffic impeding the move, workers asked Ina Miller to allow them to “park” the bridge in her yard once it had been removed. She complied and said she had loved the bridge since she had been a child, even remembering that she first crossed it on Mar. 2, 1923.
On, Aug. 21, the following Monday, the bridge was moved to Oxford Lake, which attracted excitement, as another Star article stated that “people gathered in clumps at the side of the road, some pointing their Instamatics or camcorders at the lumbering sight.”
There were a few snags in the move – tree limbs had to be cut and power lines had to be moved. A crane stabilizer broke a concrete cover for a drainage spillway at the lake. The cost of the moving job -- $5,000.
The bridge’s future:
Coldwater Bridge will remain a major feature at Oxford Lake, maintained to enhance planned updates throughout the park.
“We’re going to look at how the bridge is supported,” said Hudson, “and, if we have to pour footing for it or a concrete pier, we’ll do whatever the engineers recommend.”
The bridge and its placement in the park are like a cherished antique featured in a living room. The bridge is a conversation piece, a reminder of fine craftsmanship and an item that enhances the lives of those who see it each day. Those from the past who loved it would be proud it endures.