Not much in Oxford, Alabama. No, seriously; I mean it. It’s just another small town like so many others with hardly a claim to fame worth writing about. Luckily though it harbors one of the oldest Kissing Bridges built throughout the Deep South after the Civil War, often by emancipated slaves.
“Hi! Do you guys happen to know where the covered bridge is?” I ask a young man and woman sitting beneath the trees at Oxford Lake Park. They exchange confused looks and tell me that they’ve lived there for ten years now and don’t know about any covered bridge.
“It’s supposed to be somewhere in this park. It was moved here about ten years ago. Apparently it’s a significant African-American heritage site?” I offer. Nadda. Just blank stares. “Ok Thanks anyway—I’ll hunt around. It’s gotta be here somewhere.” I smile; they don’t.
Covered bridges are popular tourist sites in New England and throughout the northern farm states. The weathered clapboard bridges north of the Mason Dixie line have adorned greeting cards and calendars for decades. Typically, one doesn’t associate them with antebellum history. However, Coldwater Covered Bridge believed to have been built between 1839--1850 as well as those that followed tell an important tale distinctive to the South.
Called “kissing bridges” because the enclosed length allowed proper courting couples to steal improper kisses unseen by their chaperones, many of the South’s covered bridges were built by ex-slave Horace King who went on to become one of the most respected bridge builders of the 19th century after purchasing his freedom in 1846. Prior to his gaining his freedom, his owner did the unprecedented--partnering with him on more than twenty development projects where the team CO-built bridged, towns, and cotton warehouses. Those projects were enough to earn him a reputation in his own right and having bought his freedom with his earnings Master Architect King went on to design and construct lattice trussbridges at every major crossing of the Chattahoochee River and over every major river in the Deep South. The post war reconstruction kept him and his five sons busy building bridges, as well as factories and courthouses. King was posthumously inducted into the Alabama Engineers Hall of Fame.
Uncovered wooden bridges only have a life span of 10 to 15 years, whereas covered wooden bridges last significantly longer. Obviously. There are eleven remaining covered bridges in Alabama more than one hundred and fifty years after they were constructed.
The National Register of Historic Places designated Coldwater Covered Bridge that once spanned the Coldwater Creek eight miles to the east of its present day location in Oxford Lake Park (currently under construction) just off Interstate 20 between Atlanta and Birmingham. Prior to their conquest and subsequent displacement Creek warriors and their families took refuge on Alabama's tallest mountain, Mt. Cheaha, surrounded by the Talladega National Forest which can be seen from the park looming on the southern horizon.