Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Barrs Ferry Bridge - the rest of the story

The bridge you see above is obviously not the bridge from yesterday's post, yet it IS a bridge over the Tombigbee River at Barrs Ferry. I took the photograph of the above bridge in October 1982.

It was during a particularly bad flood in January 1974 that the previous, 1950s era, wooden bridge washed away. The citizens of Peaceful Valley were once again cut off from their closest source of commerce, the town of Smithville.

Someone had the idea to approach the army for the use of a surplus army bridge. Randall Spradling, supervisor for the third district of Itawamba County and a close friend of Fessie Pennington, along with Jerry Wilburn, who represented Itawamba County in the state legislature, traveled to Atlanta where they met with a general in the office of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

When Randall and the general shook hands, Randall said, "You are the second general's hand I've ever shook." The general replied, that's very interesting, who was the other general? "Mark Clark," replied Randall. "How did you know General Clark," said the general. Randall responded that he had served with General Clark in Italy during World War II. At this point, the general became excited and said, "I'm a student of military history, and I've always wanted to ask a question of someone who served under General Clark. Is it true that he marched you through Italy in ten days?" Randall said, "March, hell! We run through Italy!"

Randall and Jerry suitably impressed the general, and they got their bridge. The metal bridge was a military bridge, pre-fabricated and portable, 200 feet long and 13.5 feet wide. It also had no sides, making travel over the bridge particularly suspenseful - no pun intended! I made countless slow trips over the wavy and dippy metal bridge.

However, the bridge is no longer there. When the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway was built, a new river channel was dug south of the old Tombigbee River. Once again, and permanently, the citizens of Peaceful Valley were cut off from quick trips to Smithville. Last fall we rode four-wheelers down the gravel road to the old Barrs Ferry landing, waiting for daughter Rebekah to paddle down the river in her brother's kayak. Logs and other debris prevented her from reaching Barrs Ferry, but while we were waiting we found the old pilings from the previous wooden bridge. Aunt Tootsie, who was with us, told a fascinating story about a murder that happened in the 1930s at a store/honky tonk that was once was located there. That's a story for another day. Hope you enjoyed this one!

[source for the military bridge specifications: Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey, Bridges in the Upper Tombigbee River Valley, HAER MS-11]


Janice Tracy said...

Enjoyed your interesting and informative post.

Kirk Robinson said...

Always liked that story, Mona. Wouldn't you loved to have seen the reaction on the general's face after Randall replied?