April V. Taylor
The Red Oak Creek Covered Bridge has a story as unique and intriguing as the story of its builder, Horace King. Built in the 1800’s, the bridge’s appearance tells a story of longevity and survival, with beams that have been warped by floods and charred by fire. Having carried everything from covered wagons to Model T Fords over the rust colored creek, the bridge sits just over fifty miles from the bustling hub of Atlanta.
The Red Oak Creek Covered Bridge is estimated to be around 175 years old, approximately 63,000 days, meaning it has outlasted more than 30 United States presidents. The man who built it, Horace King, has a story just as unique as the bridge itself. King was part Black, part white and part Catawba Indian. He is said to have worn a soul patch some 60 years before jazz music had even graced anyone’s ears.
King was born a slave in 1907 in South Carolina and was taught how to build Town Lattice-Truss bridges along with his master John Godwin. King showed so much skill and talent when it came ot bridge building that Godwin made him what amounted to a partner, allowing him to travel around the South with him as the pair helped build infrastructure to connect the South to the West.
King’s workmanship is what helped him win his freedom. After a storm washed away a bridge the two had built previously, Godwin was afraid they would not meet the deadline to have it rebuilt, and in an effort to motivate King, offered him his freedom if he was able to meet the deadline. Needless to say, the bridge was finished on time, and after an act from the Alabama legislature, King was a free man.
King went on to build more than 100 bridges in his lifetime. Ironically, most of his bridges fell into the hands of the Confederacy when the Civil War broke out. Not many years before his death, the covered bridges he became known for went out of style. The one remaining bridge is kept by bridgekeeper Bruce O’Neal, who lives less than a mile from it and checks on it day and night, hoping to preserve it for generations to come.