The covered bridge at Stone Mountain Park is getting a new focus – with a renaming to recognize its African American builder.
The Stone Mountain Memorial Association recently renamed the historic bridge for Washington W. King. King, who built the bridge, was part of an African American family that built many covered bridges in Georgia and Alabama.
His father, Horace King, began the family’s bridge building dynasty while he was a slave. He gained his freedom several years before the Civil War. During the time before and during that conflict, the King family were the toll keepers at Moore’s Bridge, which crossed the Chattahoochee and allowed residents of Coweta and Carroll counties to reach each side of the divide quickly.
The board of directors of the Stone Mountain Memorial Association unanimously voted to name the bridge the Washington W. King Bridge on Jan. 15, according to John Bankhead, SMMA public information officer.
In a resolution the SMMA board promised “the historic bridge from such a noted bridge
builder … a hidden treasure within the park … will be more highly promoted and
explained within the context of the times.”
The bridge connects the main park, on the back side of the mountain, near the grist mill and the granite quarry exhibit, to Indian Island. The SMMA board also intends to nominate the bridge to the National Register of Historic Places, Bankhead said.
Washington W. King (1843 -1910) was the second of three generations of King family bridge builders, who designed and constructed covered bridges all across the southeastern United States.
Stone Mountain’s covered bridge was originally constructed at a cost of approximately $2,470 in 1891 in Athens where it connected connect College Street and downtown Athens with outlying farm lands across the Oconee River. The Town Truss Bridge design served the community well for decades, until two severe floods in 1910 and again in 1963 caused severe damage to the structure.
The SMMA expressed interest in relocating the bridge to Stone Mountain Park in 1963. Two years later, the bridge was partially disassembled to make the 60-mile trek before being re-assembled and re-installed atop new cement and granite piers connecting the park to Indian Island across Stone Mountain Lake, Bankhead said.
While the park was founded as a memorial to the Confederacy, the new name for the bridge marks a step in its continual evolution. The face of the massive granite intrusion features a carving of Confederate leaders Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.
The mountain was owned in the mid-1800s by one of the Dent brothers, who built homes in the College-Temple neighborhood in Newnan. Later the mountain was owned by members of the Venable family and was the site of the founding of the rejuvenated Ku Klux Klan in 1915.
The resolution described the bridge as “one of only four known surviving examples of the
work of Washington W. King which linked communities, fostered trade and connected people” and as “an excellent and rare example of a Town Truss Bridge” which “possesses characteristics not found on other historic bridges in Georgia.”
The resolution also noted that the original signage placed in 1965 “failed to reflect that Washington W. King was an African American businessman and inadequately conveyed the unique history of the bridge itself.”
In addition, “it is abundantly fitting and proper that the outstanding legacy of Washington W. King and the unique nature of the bridge be more appropriately recognized,” according to the resolution. The board has called for “appropriate historical markers and interpretive panels” at the bridge.
“We are always looking for ways to tell the stories and history of Georgia. The story of our covered bridge and of Washington W. King will now be more prominently told and shared with the over 3 million visitors to Stone Mountain Park,” said Bill Stephens, CEO of SMMA.
Horace King built a number of bridges including the Red Oak Covered Bridge at Imlac in Meriwether County. That bridge, said to date to 1840, is believed to be the oldest surviving bridge built by King.
Horace King (1805-1887) built the first Moore’s Bridge – over the Chattahoochee and marking the Coweta-Carroll boundary – in 1857. King owned a third of the bridge – along with James Moore and Charles Mabry. King and the two white men formed the Arizona Bridge Company.
“James D. Moore supplied the land for the bridge, which was just below his house. Charles Mabry supplied the timber, and Horace King supplied the labor in exchange for his one-third interest in the toll bridge,” Doug Mabry, a distant cousin of Charles Mabry, said in 2014.
The 480-foot long wooden covered bridge was burned by Union troops during the Civil War on July 14, 1864.
Horace King built a second wooden covered bridge at the Moore’s Bridge site between 1867 and 1868, which he also co-owned with Moore and Mabry. That bridge was washed away in a flood of 1881.
Horace King began passing along the family’s bridge building business to his five sons in the 1870s. Among Washington King’s other bridges was a covered bridge built in Euharlee in Bartow County in 1886. Bartow County contracted with Washington King and Jonathan H. Burke to build that 138-foot span.
A street Horace King’s name in LaGrange, where he died and is buried. Composer Lee Johnson created a work, Horace King Unabridged, for a 2011-2012 concert series there.
"Horace King, by any standard imaginable, was a rare human being. He needed nothing more than a small, just community to find his way to freedom, success, and notoriety, Johnson said in 2011.