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Stone Mountain park rededicates bridge engineered by son of freed slave

Stone Mountain

Stone Mountain park rededicates bridge engineered by son of freed slave

Washington W. King / College Avenue Bridge

Stone Mountain, GA — The Chair of the Stone Mountain Memorial Association on Friday, Sept. 22, rededicated a historic covered bridge on the southwest side of the park.

The Washington W. King / College Avenue Bridge was engineered, designed and constructed by Washington W. King, the son of a freed slave. The bridge has also been successfully submitted for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.

“The King family, and its patriarch, famed engineer Horace King (1807-1885), designed and constructed dozens of such bridges across the south during the 19th century,” a press release from SMMA says. “W.W. King formed his Bridge Company after his father’s death in 1885, and his work was commissioned and bridges were completed in Clarke County, DeKalb County, Hall County, Oglethorpe County and Troup County, until his death in 1910.”

The bridge uses a “Town Lattice” design that allowed the wooden bridge to flex, expand and contract with the seasons, the press release says.

“W.W. King learned the technique and design from his father, Horace King, and the bridge, built with untreated lumber, is now 131 years old,” the press release says. “The bridge originally spanned the Oconee River in Athens, connecting downtown College Avenue and the University of Georgia, with the more rural regions of eastern Clarke County.”

Wooden bridges were often covered to expand their life span because lumber was often untreated.

Floods damaged the bridge in 1910 and in 1961.

“The bridge was then replaced with a concrete and steel crossing, and the Covered Bridge was set aside on the banks of the Oconee River,” the press release says. “The Clarke County Commission later donated the bridge to the Stone Mountain Memorial Association for $1.00, and the bridge was disassembled and relocated to its current location on the back side of the 3,400 acre park.”

According to the press release, DeKalb County CEO, Michael Thurmond, also an Athens-area native, road across that Athens bridge as a young boy, riding into town with his sharecropper father, taking their farm’s produce to market. Thurmond presented several King family descendants of W.W. and Horace King with the proclamation of Friday, September 16, 2022, as Washington W. King Day in DeKalb County.

Thurmond, also a published author and historian, earlier created a DeKalb County Bridge Builder Award, in honor of W.W. King, and is also a former member of the SMMA Board, the press release says.

The SMMA Board of Directors additionally formally renamed the .8-mile trail encircling Indian Island (17-acre  island on Stone Mountain Lake) as the King Trail, the press release says

“Georgia has been bountifully blessed with many prominent and leading King families, like the bridge-building King family represented here today,” SMMA chair Rev. Abraham Mosley said. “We promised additions here at Stone Mountain Park, and though this bridge has been with us almost from the beginnings of this state park, its story needed re-telling and re-focus, which it is happening here today.  We know that crossing any bridge also requires taking one careful step at a time.”

SMMA plans to add historic markers on each end of the bridge.

“W.W. King will be the first prominent African-American honored and individually represented within Stone Mountain Park, originally created as a Confederate Memorial, but now Georgia’s most visited tourism destination with an evolving and growing list of attractions, memorials and points of pride from Georgia history across metro Atlanta’s largest public green space,” the press release says.

The SMMA has additional plans to counter the racist narrative of the park’s infamous granite carving.

Those changes include moving the Confederate flags at the Stone Mountain Park walk up trail to the base of Stone Mountain at Valor Park “where they will be preserved in a place of prominence” and changing the logo of the Stone Mountain Memorial Association to rid it of the images of the Confederate leaders carved into the mountain.

The park has been slow to implement these changes, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

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