Ken Sulak, retired from USGS, is a bubbling spring of information about old bridges and ferries in Florida. Here’s what he sent recently about three Withlacoochee River bridges: a railroad bridge and two road bridges.
You can see two of them on the WWALS paddle from Allen Ramp on the Withlacoochee River to Suwannee River State Park, 2023-02-04.
Ken Sulak wrote that the prominent piling on the right (south) bank of the Withlacoochee River, just upstream of West Bridge, is not from a road bridge, rather a railroad bridge:
The West brothers operated a mill at West Lake, brought in logs from the Ellaville area to the SW and Jennings area to the NE.
A shortline lumber Railroad. Cram’s 1902 Map FCIT labels this ‘Withlacoochee Bridge’. 17 Oct 2020 KJS exploration found many vertical timber pilings cutoff and remaining in riverbed near concrete piers, and some midriver. Trestle originally timber, rebuilt on site with massive concrete pyramid piers and steel strut span.
This reference shows five EW&J RR stops, including Ellaville, but curiously not Jennings: FLORIDA RAILROADS – SL 237, PASSENGER STATIONS & STOPS, 06.07.22,
[On page 19:]
74. ELLAVILLE WESTLAKE & JENNINGS RR
2. Withlacoochee Bridge
10. Grooven >
Malloy Point pass? (Malloy Place 1902G pass?)
Ken Sulak notes, “A lot of the old railroads had ambitious names, often failing to achieve the full length of the intended RR. No real reason for this log hauling RR to actually go to Jennings.”
The RR trestle is really impressive. Originally it was a timber covered trestle, with one massive stone support on each bank, and one massive pier mid river, built in 1860. All 3 piers are still there, but the mid river pier was clad with steel plates riveted together. The trestle bridging has been replaced probably twice. What is super impressive is that the trestle is 300+ ft across, but with only the single mid river stone pier. That means that the original timber trestle had 150 ft long longleaf pine timbers spanning between the shore and the mid river pier. Had to be massive, maybe 24×24 inch square stock 150 ft long beams. Virgin longleaf pine grew as tall as ~200 ft and 3-5 ft diameter.
I’ve heard of 150-foot-tall longleaf pine, but I’ll need some documentation on 200-foot-tall ones.
Ken Sulak wrote:
When you are paddling under the current highway bridge, you will note on the west bank, a still vertical—but leaning—cutoff Lally column from the earlier bridge. On the exact same site, this was an unusual bridge, bowstring design—called the Lee Bridge by locals since the road led to Lee, FL. Also unusual in consisting of two linked spans.
There is apparently a picture of a car on that bridge in 1920 in the book, Photographic Treasures of Madison County – Vol. III, by Monteen Moore Cave and Maria Hernandez Greene, published by Treasures of Madison County, 2009.
Ken Sulak continued:
This old single lane steel bridge sat on Lally Columns, so the Lee Bridge had to be built no earlier than 1898. Only two such bowstring design bridges were built in Florida as far as I can determine. Maybe the Lee Bridge built sometime between 1898-1908 by the same builders?
We’ll come back to this one later:
As the 1881 Nunn bowstring bridge over Alapaha licensed to Henry Peeples Nunn 1853-1919 & Jeremiah Gill 1856-xxxx. That Alapaha bridge—US 41 and FL 6 a few miles due west of Jasper—was originally the site of the Nunn Ferry, then the Nunn Bowstring Bridge, than a 2-span Pratt-style steel bridge. All at the site of the current highway bridge. I think the Nunn Bowstring Bridge over the Alapaha was maybe the first steel bridge built in Florida. I need to determine if the piers were concrete/brick (pre-1898) instead of steel columns.
Ken also wrote about another Withlacoochee River bridge:
However, so far, I think the old steel bridge at Madison Blue Springs was the first steel bridge. It stood of crudely made site-mixed concrete and broken brick piers. One of those remains, toppled, just about 100 m upstream of the existing SR6 highway bridge. The bowstring design was structurally weak, with only a single overhead strut connecting the two sides. Few were built.
-jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®