My senses don’t include one for direction, but I was confident that I could find an escape route. I made a couple of frantic turns and felt the satisfaction that came from outwitting a locomotive. In an instant my reality changed.
I had come upon a bridge but there was no asphalt under my tires. The ground undulated and rumbled noisily. It sounded like my JEEP was tap-dancing. For 15 horrifying seconds my life flashed before my eyes. The desire to circumvent a train had positioned me on an uncertain path. I wondered if I’d make it to the other side or plummet to the ground, landing in a pile of crushed steel.
Now driving with a purpose, I couldn’t wait to get to my writers club meeting. I’d regale everyone with this near-death experience. My heart was still beating fast as I spit out the details, but my tale was met with yawns of indifference. Finally someone said, “It was worse before they fixed the bridge.” I can’t imagine that.
Residents know the lore. Captain David William Croft worked for the Savannah, Griffin, and North Alabama railroad, a predecessor of the Central of Georgia Railway. He was the conductor on the first train to enter town. Around 1874 he paid $65 for the land and arranged for the railroad to build the bridge so his children could walk to church without having to cross the then-busy railroad tracks.
In 2010 the bridge was renovated. Concrete foundations were poured under the existing trusses. To further stabilize the deck, newly installed planks were bolted down. The older planks were nailed down. All the structural improvements led a Norfolk Southern engineer to qualify it as the most stable of any wooden bridge he had seen.
Several towns in Georgia have wooden bridges, or humpback spans, so-called because they’re higher in the middle than on either end. Jasper has one, and on the west side of Madison is the Oil Mill Road Bridge, now closed to motor vehicles. There’s the Van Wert Street Bridge in Buchanan, which crosses over the same former Central of Georgia line as ours.
Eight months after my first encounter, I mustered the nerve to re-visit the Croft Street Bridge, which arches over the railroad tracks. I walked up the sloped pedestrian walkway and lingered at the apex. On the observation deck I read the plaque about Captain Croft, and read about George Floyd, the structural engineer for the city of Carrollton who designed the renovation.
Standing atop the bridge, I felt the vibrations from passing cars. It felt like history pulsating. I imagined the captain’s children and countless other children dressed in their Sunday best, skipping across the original bridge on their way to church.
I looked down the tracks at the historic Carrollton train depot. My imagination summoned more sights and sounds from the past. I heard shouts of “All aboard!” I saw passengers arriving and departing. A hundred and forty years ago Carrollton was the cotton market for a wide area of west Georgia and eastern Alabama, so I saw freight being loaded and unloaded.
The depot renovation is almost complete. Originally built with bricks made on-site, the historically significant structure was falling in and scheduled for demolition. I’m thankful it was saved and is scheduled to open soon. The re-purposed building includes an event center and will house railroad memorabilia.
City Manager Casey Coleman remarked, “It was cool to restore a building that big and that old.”
He acknowledged and is appreciative of the Department of Corrections work crews who brought expert and money-saving talents like carpenters, electricians, plumbers, and masons.
The saviors of the depot have my appreciation. It adds another charm to our civic bracelet. And despite my perceived brush with death, the bridge is also a gem. Captain Croft would likely be proud of how Carrollton is shining.
Murphy is a member of the Carrollton Creative Writers Club and the Carrollton Civic Woman’s Club. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.