Tuesday, April 19, 2011

TOP STORY >> Sad to see old bridge torn down

Leader executive editor

Scott Fryer took his family Saturday to inspect Fryer’s Ford Bridge, which had served the rural community near Solgohachia in Conway County since 1890.

Fryer, who lives in rural Jacksonville behind the air base, saw the twisted, rusted metal barely hanging on to the sides of the bridge and the base made of wood split like a V.

He climbed down near the bridge and saw the elaborate rockwork on both sides of the creek. The rocks are about 20 feet high and helped hold up the bridge for more than 120 years.

“The metal is twisted like a pretzel,” Fryer said later. “The main girders broke in half.”

Built just 25 years after the Civil War for about $4,000, it was the oldest bridge still in use in Arkansas. But no more.

About 10 miles north of Morrilton down a dirt road, the old bridge over Point Remove Creek, which is near where Fryer’s great-grandfather farmed, will soon come down—a victim of progress. It was damaged beyond repair last week by a truck driver who was looking for a short cut delivering water for natural-gas drillers.

Fryer suspects heavy trucks often crossed the bridge, but it was the driver’s carelessness that finally brought the structure down.

The driver was fired, but that won’t bring the bridge back. It was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004.

Fryer thinks the bridge snapped when Jason Burris, the driver, hit part of the girders, jerked the truck out of the tangled mess and made it across just as the bridge started to fall. Then a tree fell on top of it.

“He felt it buckling and stepped on the gas,” says Fryer, who works in the income-tax division of the state Department of Finance and Administration.

The truck was several times over the weight limit, which is just three tons — about the weight of an SUV. What brought the bridge down was probably the damage to the sides that supported the structure for more than a century.

Fryer says the county is hoping to put up a new bridge nearby for $1.5 million. The trucking company, Sweet H2O, has promised to do all it can to replace the bridge.

“The truck company wants to make things right,” says Fryer.

“The driver was fired,” he says, “but the boss who told them to drive across the bridge wasn’t fired.”

Much has changed since Fryer’s great-grandfather farmed there: Some of the most productive gas wells are in the area. Shiny pipelines course through there, distributing cheap energy, but at a price: A piece of history spanning three centuries is gone.

Fryer’s family started farming near Solgohachia back in the 1840s. They left around the turn of the century after several members of Fryer’s family, including his great-grandfather, were murdered.

No point in romanticizing the past: There was a lot of violence on the frontier, but people got by and built sturdy bridges for a few thousand dollars that lasted almost forever.

Sadly, the landmark will soon be gone.