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The Saga of the Plum Point Bridge 1900-1914

Herein follows some epic moments and turns of fortunes in Adair County Travel History. The story tells how Plum Point won out over Neatsville for a bridge across Green River. It recalls the disaster of 1913, "The Great Freshet," possibly the worst flooding since 1907. It tells of the building of the Milltown Bridge over Russell Creek, another on Stanford Road, and yet another over Russell Creek on Somerset Road - in all, six Adair County Bridges by Champion Bridge Company, in an almost frenzied bridge building program not exceeded until the administration of Judge Ann Melton when 20 bridges were build in eight years.
Inspiration for this article for came from the photo and drawing of Plum Point Bridge (Where Plum Point Bridge was but isn't anymore and Scenic Adair Co., KY: Beautiful drawing of old Plum Point Bridge) on ColumbiaMagazine. - JIM
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"These bridges are very much needed and we trust the county will do its part toward building them."--Adair County News, January, 1900. The entire Green River section of Adair County buzzed with excitement one hundred fifteen years ago. After decades of inertia, the Fiscal Court, finally with a pro-bridge majority, voted to have a bridge erected across the river. Toward that end, the Court invited Mr. Harlow H. Spain, traveling representative of the Champion Bridge Company of Wilmington, Ohio, to estimate the cost of two bridges--one across Green River either at Plum Point or Old Neatsville, the other across Russell's Creek at Milltown.

Mr. Spain arrived in the county near the end of January 1900. Reported the News soon thereafter, "In company with Judge J.W. Butler and County Attorney Jas. Garnett, Jr., all the points were visited, but no definite conclusion was reached as to cost, as the calculations will have to be made at the manufactory. Enough, however, was learned that a bridge at Old Neatsville could be built for about $1,000 cheaper that at Plum Point."

The Court tasked Mr. Spain's with preparing formal bids and having them ready for examination at the April session of said Court. Remarked the News, "In the meantime the County Judge and County Attorney will see how much money can be raised by private subscription, in order that the Court may understand the amount the county will have to pay should a contract be entered into for the bridges."

Time likely passed at a snail's pace for the Green River section, but finally, April arrived, the Court met, and the News dated the 25th carried a lengthy article about what transpired.

On Tuesday, April 17th, "the County Court met at Plum Point on Green river for the purpose of determining the most suitable place to build a bridge across said stream. About seventy-five or one hundred interested citizens, together with eight or ten bridge men, were on hand and the advantages accruing to the people of the county by bridging the river at that point were forcefully presented by Dr. R.D. Hovious, C.V. McWhorter and Steve Knifley all making brief but pointed argument in favor of Plum Point."

Members of the visiting delegation then enjoyed a fine dinner at various homes in Plum Point and immediately thereafter, "the magistrates and many others started for old Neatsville, reaching there about 2:30 p.m., and finding about one hundred of the good citizens of that section ready to welcome the court and to set forth the advantages of bridging at that point. The reasons why the river should be bridged at that point were presented in short order and forceful speeches made by Hon. W.F. Neat and Mr. R.W. Allen, after which the court adjourned to meet in Columbia the following day."

On Wednesday, the Court spent the better part of the day examining bids (companies other than Champion Bridge had been invited to submit) and determining "whether the bridge should be built at Plum Point or Neatsville." Finally, late in the day, "the vote stood 5 to 1 in favor of Plum Point." Mr. Spain's efforts carried the day but by the slimmest of margins; Champion underbid the Milltown and Plum Point projects by a total of less than twenty dollars. The article went on to state, "As it now stands the people of Plum Point get $3,007.71 from the county and [the residents of Plum Point] pay $1,348.64 which builds the bridge." Theses sums amounted to almost exactly a 70/30 split in cost.

The News failed to clearly delineate the Court's reasoning in selecting Plum Point over Old Neatsville, but almost certainly, a contributing factor was brought to light in a later article which noted that with the completion of the bridge, "[Green River] can be crossed at [Plum Point], and from that point there is a direct road over Tennessee Ridge on to Liberty without again crossing the river."

The spring and nearly all the summer months of 1900 slipped by as Champion manufactured the bridge components, then shortly before the autumnal equinox, brief items began showing up in the paper.

The September 12th edition noted, "Mr. J.H. Young informs us that it is his understanding that work will begin on the Plum Point bridge in about three weeks," and the following week came the announcement, "Some of the material for the Plum Point bridge has reached Campbellsville and will probably be hauled over this week." The Watson newsletter in this issue made mention that "Mr. Sandusky is cutting some nice lumber for J.H. Young. Also has a nice lot cut for the new bridge at Plum Point." And too, came the reminder it was time for the Plum Pointers to pay the piper: "Money subscribed for the building of the Plum Point bridge is now due. Call at once and pay same to John B. Russell or J.B. Watson."

Shortly before the end of that long ago September came word that all the materials were on site and the News rather optimistically predicted "the structure will be completed by the middle of next week," that is, by about October first. The same edition, with an eye on Columbia's financial well-being, commented thus:
"With a bridge across Green River, the business of Columbia should be materially enhanced. Before an order was made for the bridge much complaint was made by the citizens because the could not reach this place during a rise in the river. In a few days the bridge will be up, and people living beyond the river are respectfully invited to Columbia to do their trading."

The opening of the Plum Point Bridge drew exactly two sentences in the News of October 17th with the succinct, anti-climatic announcement: "The Plum Point bridge was completed last Thursday [October 11th]. A fill about 100 yards in length will have to be made."
Not surprisingly, a few people who promised to help pay for the bridge were slow in reaching for their wallets and thus elicited in early January 1901 the "request" that all who still owed to please get the monies into the hands of J.B. Russell immediately. The announcement concluded by pointedly stating, "The bondsmen are paying interest on the money, and if the amounts subscribed are not handed in at an early day the business will be placed in the hands of an officer."

(The Adair Fiscal Court was pleased enough with the Champion Bridge Co. to award another contract, this one for a bridge across Russell's Creek on Somerset Road at Wilson's Mill, in the spring of 1902. The agreed-upon price was $1,935, with completion by November 1902. In the spring of 1903, County Court called on Champion Bridge yet again, this time for a span across Russell's on the Stanford Road at a cost of $2,400.)

Over the course of the next several years, the Plum Point bridge drew notable mention only once, that coming in the latter part of 1909 when the Fiscal Court approved a five dollar expenditure to W.H. Cave for unspecified repairs to the structure.

Then came the great deluge of early 1913. An article in the January 15 edition headlined "The Big Freshet" told the tale:

"A heavy and steady rain commenced to fall here early in the night last Sunday week [January 5th] and the down pour continued, without cessation until Tuesday afternoon [January 7th] about five o'clock...

"At Plum Point, in this county, the iron bridge built seven (sic) years ago at an expense of five thousand dollars, washed away and lodged on an island a few hundred yards below. It is estimated that it will cost the county one thousand dollars to replace it...

"Mr. J.N. Coffey, County Road Engineer, says that it will take two thousand dollars to replace Plum Point bridge and do the necessary work at the others."

By the end of April, all the ironwork components had been snaked from the river, a representative of the Champion Bridge Co. was on site, and, commented the ever-optimistic News, "the work of the replacing the structure is now in progress. It will take but a short time to do the work."

That rosy projection was not to be, however, as several of the bridge members were damaged and in need of reworking or replacing. Come October, the Fiscal Court let a contract with Champion Bridge to repair and replace as necessary and to rebuild the bridge for the consideration of $1,695, with the work to be completed by December 15th. As the News had stated a few weeks earlier, "The people living in the Green River section are very anxious that this structure be replaced as speedily as possible."

The mid-December deadline came and went with no visible progress toward restoring the span. January 1914 followed, and in the forepart of February, the Knifley correspondent groused with considerable justification, "The people living in the Green River section are very anxious that this structure be replaced as speedily as possible." Two weeks later, the News cut to the chase, observing, "The Company who accepted the contract to replace the bridge across Green river at Plum Point is moving too slow to suit people who will be benefited by the rebuilding of the structure. The contract was awarded last October, and the bridge is not yet in sight."

Finally, finally, at the tail end of April, the materials arrived from Ohio and delivered riverside, and the work of rebuilding the bridge began on Monday morning, May 4th. By the end of the month, noted the newspaper, "The iron bridge across Green river at Plum Point, will be completed this week" and the Knifley newsletter in the next edition stated with obvious elation, "By the time this letter goes to press, our bridge at Plum Point will be completed to the joy and gladness of everybody in this section." (The correspondent also mentioned that "Mr. L.C. Smith, the bridge carpenter and one of his work hands, went fishing one day last week and caught four nice fish.")

In early June 1914 -- seventeen months almost to the day after the "big freshet" washed the bridge away, this brief article summed up the end of the saga:
"Bridge Received and Bill Paid The people living on Green river and at Knifley are greatly elated over the replacing of the iron bridge across Green river at Plum Point. The Fiscal Court met a few days ago, received the bridge, after inspection, and paid for it. The total cost of replacing, some few pieces having to be supplied, was $2,100. It is said to be a splendid piece of work, and is pronounced one of the best bridges in the county."
(In the spring of 1911, a contract finally was let--to Champion Bridge Company--for a bridge across Green River at Old Neatsville. Champion presented two options, one for $3,100 and the other, for a heavier structure, for $3,700; the News didn't indicate which was chosen. A year later, the company won its sixth Adair County contract, this time for "an iron bridge to span Russell's Creek at the Birk Ford, near Columbia, on the lower Greensburg Road," for a consideration of $1,960.)

This story was posted on 2015-02-01 09:01:14
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