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Coffee County Commission Supports Preservation of Old Stone Fort Bridge


Typed signs stating the bridge is closed but not to foot traffic are on concrete barriers in front of a green metal bridge surrounded by trees in Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park in Tennessee
The bridge in Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park is only open to pedestrians. Photo from June 2021.

On Tuesday, the Coffee County Commission adopted a resolution supporting the preservation of Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park’s bridge. (1)


For months, the fate of this bridge has been the subject of controversy. The State plans to remove it and build a new bridge, but a group of community members want to keep the current bridge in place.


The Commission decision is the latest development in the debate. Each of the sixteen voting commissioners present at the meeting supported preservation, and their names will be added to the resolution when it’s sent to representatives of the State. (2)


The bridge in question was built in 1906 by the Joliet Bridge and Iron Company from Illinois. (3) This Pratt truss bridge, a style of bridge patented in 1844 by Caleb and Thomas Pratt, originally crossed the Elk River on the border between Franklin and Coffee Counties. (4) When these counties along with the State replaced it in 1970, the Tennessee Department of Conservation (a precursor to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation) purchased it and installed it in the park over the Duck River. (5) It connected the campground to the rest of the park and is now eligible to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (6)


In 2020, the Tennessee Department of Transportation closed the bridge to vehicles, and it’s been used only by pedestrians since (7). Visitors who want to stay in the campground or hike the nearby Nature Trail or Garrison Road Trail must use an entrance off of Country Club Drive. (8)


The State plans to move part of the current bridge to another location in the park. (9) On this website, the State describes its intention to move part of the bridge to an old roadway in the park, but an official statement to Nashville’s News Channel 5 says that the plan is to install a section of the bridge as a place to view the Duck River. (10)


Reflection of trees on a river in Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park in Tennessee
View of Duck River from Old Stone Fort Bridge. Photo from June 2021.

The community group opposing these plans wants the bridge to stay for pedestrian use. (11) They contend that their plan to keep and maintain the bridge is more cost-effective than removing it and building another. (12) They cite the historical importance of the bridge not only due to its age but because of its importance to the community. (13) The bridge has served as a destination for family outings, photoshoots, and weddings for years. (14) They also oppose the replacement of the bridge for environmental reasons as it crosses the Duck River, the most biodiverse river on the continent. (15)


Dennis Hunt, the Coffee County Commissioner who introduced the resolution, echoed these environmental concerns at the Commission meeting. (16) Hunt, who runs a local crane and excavation company, said the State’s plan “would be probably the most ecologically invasive action taken in this county in several years.” (17) He described how workers would need to remove trees, build structures in the river to facilitate construction, and bring in loud heavy equipment. (18) He estimated this project could take two years to complete. (19)


When Alderman Julie Anderson sponsored a similar resolution before the Manchester Board of Mayor and Aldermen, she argued that the bridge was important for local tourism. (20) At the September 5 meeting, she said, “Unquestionably, this is a tourism asset. And if it weren’t, it wouldn't be plastered all over our website and our promotional materials so it is valuable to us.” (21) On Manchester’s tourism website, a photo of the bridge is displayed at the top of the landing page. (22)


But some members of the city board were concerned with funding. (23) Some felt that by supporting the preservation of the current bridge, they would be required to fund its future maintenance. (24) Manchester Mayor Marilyn Howard said that she didn’t believe the bridge’s particular type of steel is still produced. (25) Three aldermen, Julie Anderson, Bob Bellamy, and Donny Parsley, voted to support the resolution. Vice Mayor Mark Messick and Alderman Joey Hobbs voted against it. (26) Because it needed four votes to be adopted, it failed. (27)


If you’re interested in learning more about the effort to preserve the Old Stone Fort Bridge, see this Facebook group run by those dedicated to saving it. You can also find members of this group at Manchester’s Old Timers Day celebrations on October 6 and 7; they plan on hosting a booth and participating in the parade. (28)

 
  1. Tennessee’s Survey Report for Historic Highway Bridges - pages 420 - 421; Tennessee Blue Book 2021 - 2022, pages 346 - 347

September 17, 2023

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