The Legacy of Horace King
By Jeanne Cyriaque
Horace King was born in bondage in 1807 to enslaved parents. In 1830, King's master died, and Horace King and his mother were sold to John Godwin, a contractor who specialized in building houses and covered bridges.
In the early 1830s, Columbus issued an ad for bids to construct a bridge across the Chattahoochee River, and John Godwin and Horace King began work on their first project. The first bridge, spanning 560 feet, stood until 1865, when it was destroyed during the Civil War. It was known as the City Bridge and later the Dillingham Street Bridge. Godwin and King also built the first bridge at West Point and King was the construction foreman for City Mills in Columbus.
Horace King married Frances Thomas in 1839. The couple had four sons: Washington, Marshall, John, and George, and one daughter, Annie. King personally trained his sons to build covered bridges, and after the Civil War, they started the King Bridge Company.
As Horace King's reputation as a builder spread, his skills came to the attention of Robert Jemison, a Tuscaloosa lawyer and Alabama legislator. Among their joint ventures were roads in Georgia, bridges spanning the Chattahoochee, and the reconstruction of the Alabama State Capitol in 1849. When Godwin, faced with financial ruin, was offered as much as $6,000 for Horace King, Jemison orchestrated King's freedom by an act from the Alabama legislature in 1846. In 1858, Nelson Tift, an Albany entrepreneur, developed a concept for a toll bridge across the Flint River. Tift failed to convince city officials to build the bridge, and decided to implement the project himself, with Horace King as his construction foreman.
Horace King built numerous bridges for the Confederacy during the Civil War. King supplied logs, treenails (wooden pegs) and over 15,000 feet of lumber for the construction of the CSS Jackson, an ironclad gunboat that now resides at the Columbus National Civil War Naval Museum.
Horace King served two terms in the Alabama General Assembly, from 1868-1872, and moved to LaGrange. He lived with his family until his death in 1885. Horace and Marshall King are buried near the Confederate Cemetery on Miller Street in LaGrange. The street where he lived in LaGrange is now named Horace King Street, and the Troup County Archives is a repository for research materials documenting his achievements as Horace, the master covered bridge builder.
Today, visitors in Georgia can experience the remarkable legacy of bridges, houses and warships. One can walk across the 1840 Red Oak Creek Bridge located near Woodbury on Covered Bridge Road that intersects Georgia state highway 85; or view an exhibit at the Columbus Museum featuring his Dillingham Street Bridge; or tour the restored Flint River Bridge House in Albany at RiverFront Park and the Horace King Overlook, a wooden structure that is a reduced scale replica of one of King's covered bridges, which was dedicated in King's honor in 2004.