The old railroad bridge

By  | June 27, 2017 | Filed under: News

Bobby Inman

Last Sunday was a bright and sunny day.  Lisa and the kiddos were up and I made the suggestion of going to the Old Railroad Bridge located in Sheffield, Alabama.  None of them had ever been so we went.  If you are not familiar with the Old Railroad Bridge, it is behind the condos just before you cross O’Neal Bridge in Sheffield.

The Bridge is maintained by the Old Railroad Bridge Company.  According to Dave Reasons, the Old Railroad Bridge Company President, they are making upgrades to the bridge to make it a site that visitors would want to see.  The Old Railroad Bridge Company is a nonprofit organization and accepts donations to help with the upkeep.

Upon arrival, several people were at the bridge.  You can find people taking pictures, jogging, walking their dogs or just relaxing at the bridge.  A short walk from the parking lot and you find this sign.


The Old Railroad Bridge historical timeline.  (From the ORBC Website)

Circa 1817/1818 – John Winston purchases ferry rights from The Cypress Land Co., to build ferry at location of present railroad bridge.

1820 – James Jackson, John McKinley and George Cockburn purchase ferry rights.

1832 – In JanuaryThe Florence Bridge Company is charted by the Alabama Legislature to build a bridge at a suitable site.  Tolls were to exceed ferry rates then current.  The stock subscription was to be $60,000, plus $35,000 stock which was to be given to the ferry company for the value of its investment in ferry landings and ferry equipment.

1837 –

  • The Tuscumbia Patriot report in January,The president and directors of the Florence Bridge Company have contracted with a gentleman from the North for the building of a bridge across the Tennessee Rive opposite Florence.  It is to be constructed on the improve Burr Plan, upon pillars of stone, to be covered the whole length and to be completed in two years from May 1, but expects to take only 18 months.  He has taken $25,000 in stock.  The bridge is projected to cost $125, 000.
  • The Tuscumbia Patriot reports in March, the important work has already been commenced with a promptitude that insures its completion within the contract time.  Being on the principal thoroughfare from North to South, the bridge will be a vast service to the moving, commencing in obviating the delays always attendant on ferries.  While persons residing in the vicinity and having occasions to cross the river more or less, will find it an invaluable convenience.
  • The Tuscumbia Patriot reports in May, Basil Nelson places an ad in the newspaper explaining that he was not familiar with the “old prejudices against the Florence Ferry.”  He hoped that these prejudices would be forgotten for he had bought and completely refurbished the Florence Ferry and fi the people on the south side of the river would not use the ferry, he was afraid that he would go broke.
  • In December, the Alabama Legislation amends act allowing the Bridge Company to sue one who do not pay.

1840 – Florence Bridge opens, local historical publications describe the first trestle as being divided into two passageways for the entire length there was a sign on the south side that read “Keep to the Right as the law directs.”

1841– North Alabama News, Tucumbia – Mills and Cotton Factory – The subscribers beg leave to inform the public on the South side of the Tennessee River that they have made arrangement with the Florence Bridge Company, for all persons sending grain to their Mills, or cotton to their Factory, to pass the Bridge free of charge, for the ensuing twelve months.  Their Mills having lately been much improved in the manufacturing of Flour, they hope to be able to give general satisfaction. They are now engaged in erecting an additional corn mill; so that, when complete, they will be able to do grinding with great dispatch.  They also keep constantly on hand, a variety of Heavy Domestic Goods and Cotton Yarn, at their factory, which they will exchange for cotton or cash, on suitable terms.  Their mills and factory are situated 2-1/2 miles west of Florence, where the public is invited to call and examine for themselves.  Martin & Cassidy  P.S. Persons crossing the Bridge on the above terms are request at all times to obtain our ticket to present at the Bridge on their return.

1850 –

  • Florence Gazette – Stockholders meeting of Memphis & Charleston Railroad (M&C RR) to complete the organization in Tuscumbia announced for April 1.
  • Bridge damaged by tornado and sits idle until 1853

1851 – M&C RR takes possession of the Tennessee Valley Railroad at a price of $75,000 paid in M&C RR stock.

1853 – Bridge repaired only to have another storm damage bridge the same year.

1854 – Two southern spans of the wooden bridge were destroyed by a cyclone and destroyed by a tornado one year later.

1857 – Committee formed to solicit subscriptions of stock for Florence Branch. David Deshler was elected Chairman, L.S. Thornton, L.B. Cooper, M. J. Warren and Wm. B. Wood were appointed to the committee.

1858 – M&C RR buys Ferry privileges from local Bridge company for $125,000, has to forfeit rights if new bridge not constructed. Bridge started with enw piers added in between the present ones. Piers were increased in height by some 10 feet.

1859 –

  • Florence Gazette – We have been mum for several weeks, in regard to the progress of the railroad bridge, that is being erected across the Tennessee River at this place. The repeated rises in the river during the last two or three months have prevented the furthering on of the work, with the dispatch which would have attended the efforts of the builders. We will state for the information of our readers, that there are nine spans of the thoroughfare bridge now completed or nearly so, except laying the floor, and there are yet some six or seven spans to be put up.  The grading across the bottom, between the river and hill, on this side is approaching completion as rapidly as the circumstances that have existed would permit. The late we weather has operated against the graders.
  • Florence Gazette reports that the bridge was open to wagons.
  • Florence Gazette reports 1st effective date of train schedule across the bridge.

1860 – The railroad used warehouses at South Florence, but had them moved so they would be parallel to track. Bridge Opens

1862 –

  • Federal gunboats arrive at Florence where citizens “waited upon me, first desiring that they might be made able to quiet the fears of their wives and daughters, with assurances from me that they would not be molested; and secondly praying I would not destroy their railroad bridge were away, we could not ascend no higher, and that is could possess no military importance, so far as I saw, as it simply connected Florence itself with the railroad on the south bank of the river.”
  • Camp Shiloh – W. T. Sherman, On the 19th, having succeeded in the main purpose of the expedition, I wanted to proceed 20 miles farther up the Tennessee and there make another break, as well as to push on to Tuscumbia Landing and Florence.  At Florence, there is a very fine bridge for a branch railroad that connects Florence with Tuscumbia with a road bridge underneath but it was the unanimous opinion of all pilots that the gunboats and even one of the transports could not pass beneath the bridge or through Colbert shoals.
  • Huntsville Headquarters, 3rd division; O.M. Mitchell to E.M. Stanton, Secretary of War, USA.  On Friday, the 11th, I entered Huntsville, capturing a large number of engines and cars. On Saturday (12th) expeditions were dispatched by rail east and west, seizing Stevenson and Decatur. Decatur was at once occupied. On Sunday (13th) we advanced cautiously upon Tuscumbia and Florence and found the enemy had burned the railroad bridges. These were repaired and reconstructed. On Monday night (14th) I threw forward a strong force by rail to within 15 miles of Tuscumbia, and ordered them to advance prudently, in the hope of opening our communications directly with General Buell. From deserters we learn that the enemy had burned just in advance of us the bridge at Florence across the Tennessee River and Railway Bridge between Tuscumbia and Corinth.
  • Field of Shiloh – General O.M. Mitchell to Buell:  I did not expect that you could attempt to occupy Tuscumbia in force. The destruction of the Florence Bridge deprives that position of its main advantage of its security also, having you with only railroad to fall back upon.  Colonel Helm, CSA reported to have burned the bridge.

1869 –

  • M&C RR annual report describes bridge is to be built and completed in 1870.
  • Bridge rebuild by M&C RR

1872 – Draw bridge added to allow boats an unobstructed access to the waterway.

1874 –

  • Some say bridge was damaged by cyclone, probably the tornado on November 22 that destroyed about 1/3 of Tuscumbia killing about 10 people.
  • L&N RR adds stone piers between present piers to give bridge more strength.

1877 – Virginia and Georgia Railroad lease M&C RR.

1881 – The L&N RR intends to go from Nashville through Florence through Tuscumbia to Tuscaloosa, Alabama

1887 – By agreement, Nashville, Florence and Sheffield Co. acquires right to use the bridge jointly with M&C RR.

1888 – Nashville, Florence and Sheffield Railway Co. was completed between St. Joseph, Tennessee to Florence with the owner of the majority of stock being the L&N RR. Access to Sheffield was gained by the M&C RR bridge.

1892 – Newspapers dated May 3 reports that on Friday the 8:00 AM freight was delayed for about one hour while the bridge was being worked on near the Florence side. The engine was pushing 3 cars of limestone with a number of cars of coke in tow. The bridge gave way with the 3 cars of stone, engine with tender and 2 cars of coke falling through the roadway to river. One man was badly injured, two others seriously injured.

1893 – Florence Herald: The last span on the Florence Bridge has been lowered into position and the bridge is nearing completion. The Detroit Bridge Co. is the contractor. Thirty men are employed and the work has been in progress for twelve months.

1895 – Florence Herald: An act of the Legislature was passed to provide for lower tolls on the M&C RR bridge at Florence, as follows;

  • Each foot passenger $ .05
  • Each one horse vehicle and driver $.15
  • Each two horse vehicle and driver $.25
  • Each three horse vehicle and driver $.30
  • Each four house vehicle and driver $.35
  • Each additional person in vehicle $.05
  • Each horse or mule with rider $.08
  • Each horse or mule $.05
  • Each cow or steer $.05
  • Each sheep, hog or goat $.03

The operator of the bridge will be subject to a fine of $20 for each offense if higher rates are charged.

1895 – Sheffield & Tuscumbia Street Railway Co., incorporated on November 23, 1886 placed into service by Nashville, Florence and Sheffield Railway Co.

1897 – During the flood, 75 feet of levee near the bridge and the M&C RR approach was washed out. The 300 feet of the railroad track was inundated, that the water was 2-1/2 feet deep in the railroad station.

1898 – M&C RR absorbed by Southern Railroad.

1902 – Southern Railway moves shops from Tuscumbia to Sheffield

1903 – George Parsons of Kennebunk, Maine and J.W. Worthington of Sheffield and Henry Parsons of New York formed and incorporated the Sheffield Railway. The purpose of the corporation was to construct, maintain and operate a street railway between Tuscumbia, Sheffield and Florence.

1903 – Agreement with Sheffield Co. for 30 years joint use of bridge where Sheffield Co. pays Southern RR 20 percent of fares collected and not less than 2 cents per passenger, except on mutual consent.

1904 – Street car service begins between Tuscumbia and Sheffield.

1904 –

  • In July Street car service begins to Florence
  • In December,  The men of the Sheffield Railway Co. reorganize as the Sheffield Co. to broaden the scoop of their operation to include their own power generating facilities and water distribution systems along with the operation of the street cars.

1906 –

  • In April, Florence Depot at north end of railroad bridge and foot of Court Street Hill just about where Alabama 20 leaves the four lane road to Florence, burned and Southern builds a new one in East Florence. The usual train consisted of a light engine, two battered coaches and a baggage car which turned around on a Y near the station.
  • New machinery for the drawbridge was installed and the short span south of the bridge was also replaced.
  • In August, First daily train to Nashville from Tuscumbia (L&N). Train leaves at 9:05 a.m. and returns at 9:20 p.m. There is a 8 hour layover in Nashville.

1907 – In July,  Sheffield and Florence ask Tuscumbia to cooperate in annulling all passenger trains from to Florence and allow the street cars to handle all traffic.

1909 –  In December, Agreement reduces fare from 20 cents per passenger to 10 cents with Sheffield Co.

1910 – In April, Southern Bell telephone lines are covered by agreement.

1910 – In August, L&N asked to continue passenger service to Tuscumbia no matter what Southern RR does.

1911 – In July, All trains go around Tuscumbia via Sheffield. Tuscumbia’s 5th Street Station is abandoned while 1st Street Station becomes main station.

1915 – In March, Winston Estate agrees to donate to the city of Tuscumbia 7-1/2 of land on both sides of main street extending through the Winston Estate property on the condition that the city abolish the old Florence branch railroad bed.

1918 – In October, Florence took over collection of tolls on bridge for $10,00 per annum

1919 – In May, The Sheffield Co surrendered its mail and passenger handling privileges to the Director-General of Railroads but this was cancelled in 1921.

1926 – In February, By agreement, the highway portion was leased to Colbert County and Lauderdale County for 3 years at $3,000 per annum

1928 – In May, Alabama Power Co. took over operations and responsibilities of the Sheffield Co.

1929 – In March, The Alabama Highway Department leased the highway portion for a 5 year term at $3,000 per annum.

1933 –

  • In February Street car service ends
  • In September, Agreement with Alabama Power made for lines over the bridge

1939 – In October, O’Neal Bridge opens as toll bridge. Traffic ends on railroad bridge.

1943 – In June, Agreement with Alabama Power Co. cancelled. Southern acquires lines quit claim deed.

1948 – In May, Agreement with Southern Bell is cancelled for telephone lines. Railroad bridge is closed while turn span is replaced.

1962 – In September,  Old pivot span with 100 feet clearance was replaced by lift span which provided a 350 horizontal clearance in the raised position, 62 foot clearance at normal pool. During reconstruction, rail service was rerouted via other L&N connections. Southern RR paid 135,000 as its apportionment of the total cost of $3,500,000.

1970 – Due to general decline of rail service on both Southern and L&N, the bridge tender was assigned to one shift from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The bridge was left unattended in a raised position the rest of the time.

1986 – In April, K&N RR cancels the operating agreement with Southern RR and discontinue their operations over the bridge.

1988 –

  • In August, Southern RR petitions ICC to abandon Florence Branch of 2.7 miles which includes the bridge.
  • In September, The ICC granted the abandonment subject to maintaining the structural integrity of the approach span until completion of the process under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.

1990 – In November, The Old Railroad Bridge Company, Inc. is formed primarily for the purpose of preserving, restoring and developing the historic section of the Florence Railroad Bridge.

This historical timeline was developed from the best available sources and is believed to provide a reliability history of the The Old Railroad Bridge and bridge site.

Walking onto the bridge you are able to view the lush greenery of the surrounding banks as well as a view of O’Neal Bridge.  While walking on the bridge, we met Mary Kinney who was visiting the area from Missouri.  We took her picture and emailed it to her so she would have a shot of this memory.

Mary Kinney from Missouri

It is a long walk to the end, but well worth it.  The scenery is beautiful.  On sunny days, with the wind blowing off the river, it is comfortable.  At the end of the bridge it is a spectacular view of Tennessee River.

I began to take pictures of the kiddos as well as the surrounding area.  Of course before it was over with, the kiddos had to take pictures also.  This is a good family oriented place, which is so hard to find in today’s society.


While we were there, we met Blair, a young German Shepherd.  Blair was being walked by his owner.  The kiddos had to stop and talk to Blair.    I think Blair enjoyed the attention.

The next time you have some free time, take a trip to the Old Railroad Bridge.  When I was working dayshift at Sheffield Police Department, I use to go onto the bridge and watch the sunrise.  It is an awesome sight.  Why you are at it take the kiddos or fur-babies.  They will enjoy it also.

     Bobby Inman is retired from Law Enforcement after 21 years of Service.  He owns Hammer Down Gun & Pawn located in Sheffield, Alabama.  He has articles published in Law & Order Magazine, Police Marksman Magazine, Guns & Weapons for Law Enforcement Magazine as well as several published ebooks on Amazon, Kobo Writing, as well as Nook (Barnes & Noble).  He is owner of Poopiedog, an Animal Rescue Dachshund, who is his constant companion.   He is a Correspondent for the Quad Cities Daily

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One Response to The old railroad bridge

  1. shove_a_pickle_up_me_hiney July 7, 2017 at 12:18 pm

    XD woahh dude

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