Ken Sulak has more about Peoples Bridge on the Suwannee River, including the church the bridge was built for, and when an alligator ate a man in 1880.
Apparently this was a little-known peril of deer hunting. Of course, alligator attacks on humans are very rare: that’s why this one was news.
I have contacted the Oak Grove Baptist Church, still in existence continuously from the 1870s. The contact person knew nothing about the long gone People’s Bridge 1.2 mi due West from the church. She referred my inquiry to the pastor, unfortunately very new and from up north. So, he knows nothing about the old history. I was hoping the church maintained an archive, or a birth-death-burial log, or an annotated master bible. No luck on that so far.
The road due west from this church is ‘Glory Lane’. Currently it ends T-boning into US 441, but it originally extended west (thin yellow line) with some sections of it still intact, continuing to intersect with the old track of ‘Old Fargo Road’, continuing west to the river via the People’s Bridge approach road, which I have overlain as the thick yellow line on the Zoom map, from the 1946 USDA aerial imagery. The thin red line dirt roads are SRWMD service roads within the Little Creek Tract.
More from Ken:
When you are kayaking down the river from Cone Bridge (rmi 189.20 SRWMD) you encounter a very wide spot in the river with an island in the middle at rmi 185.15. What seems to be a rapid across the west side channel is actually the double row of cutoff bridge pilings that catches branches, limbs, and debris.
And the alligator story:
I became aware of this bridge from a photo of the pilings sent by Edwin McCook, SRWMD, and subsequently by a newspaper article received from Millie Griswold, Archivist at the Dowling Park Advent Christian Village library/archive. The “People’s Bridge” was named as the site of an alligator attack report 13 July 1880 in ‘The Weekly Floridian’. A man went for a swim, got attacked and died. I would attach that article—BUT it is hardcopy, not yet scanned, and I could not find it today in my great unorganized piles of notes. It will turn up.
I found the story in an image of The Weekly Floridian, July 13, 1880, in newspapers.uflib.ufl.edu:
—A few days ago a party of several
near Benton went on a “drive” for deer.
About twelve o’clock they came to Peo-
ple’s Bridge on the Suwannee and, being
warm and much fatigued, they concluded
to take a bath. The party, consisting of
about eight, divested themselves of cloth-
ing and enjoyed a swim. As most of the
party were employing themselves in dress-
ing, a young man named Mixon cried out,
“Boys, I must have one last swim,” and
plunged into the stream. As he reached
the middle be cried for help to his com-
panions, and they looked to behold him
held by the right shoulder in the mouth
ofan enormous alligator. The monster
sank with him, reappearing some two or
three minutes later upon the surface with
Mixon still in his jaws. Mixon cried to
his companions to shoot, but before a gun
could be discharged he sank again, taking
Mixon under with him. About two min-
utes after he arose again and made for the
opposite shore, still having the ill-fated
young man in his enormous month. Again
Mixon called upon his companions to
shoot, but, being afraid of hitting Mixon,
no one discharged his gun. The alliga-
tor crept some half a dozen feet upon the
opposite bank, remaining about three
minutes, when, guided by s sudden im-
pulse, he plunged with his precious bur-
den into the river again, and, reaching
the middle, sank to rise no more within
the view of the party. A thorough search
was made, but nought could be seen of
the body or parts of body of the unfortu-
nate young man. The presumption is that
the alligator made for his lair, which
probably was near at hand.—Lake City
Reporter, July 10.
And a PS from Ken:
Feel free to circulate—perhaps someone in the WWALS bunch has an old family connection to the Oak Grove Baptist Church south of Cone Bridge off US 441 in Columbia County. But note that there are a few other different Oak Grove churches in North Florida.
I’ve updated these locations in the WWALS map of the Suwannee River Water Trail.
-jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®