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Sheffield landmark receives national registry distinction

SHEFFIELD – Having survived at least three tornadoes, rising water during construction periods, floods and the Civil War in the 19th century, the Memphis & Charleston Railroad Bridge certainly deserved consideration to be included on the National Register of Historic Places.

Though the span over the Tennessee River, better known as the Old Railroad Bridge, has stood in one form or another for 184 years it took nearly a decade of efforts for it to be included on the National Park Service’s registry.

(Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area/Facebook)

According to the Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area, the nomination process began around 2015 when local historian and former Tennessee Valley Authority chemist Richard C. Sheridan submitted a National Register documentation form to the Alabama Historical Commission.

To be considered for the National Register, nominations must pass a state-level review board before the National Park Service sees them.

The AHC commented on and made suggestions for revising the nomination draft and also asked the MSNHA to get involved in the process for extra support. The project sat dormant for a while, but the bridge is finally is listed on the National Register and pages of historical context and geographical documentation are on file.

The MSNHA was assisted by the Old Railroad Bridge Company (ORBC) — owners and operators of the bridge structure today that is only open to pedestrian traffic.

(Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area/Facebook)

Early abbreviated timeline/history:

  • 1817/1818 – John Winston purchases rights to build ferry at location of present railroad bridge.
  • 1832 – The Florence Bridge Company is charted by the Alabama Legislature to build a bridge.
  • 1840 – Florence Bridge opens
  • 1850 – Stockholders meeting of Memphis & Charleston Railroad (M&C RR) to complete the organization in Tuscumbia announced for April 1. Bridge damaged by tornado and sits idle until 1853.
  • 1851 – M&C RR takes possession of the Tennessee Valley Railroad.
  • 1853 – Bridge repaired only to have another storm damage bridge the same year.
  • 1854 – Two southern spans of the wooden bridge were destroyed by a cyclone and destroyed by a tornado one year later.
  • 1862 – Union gunboats arrive at Florence; later Confederates or sympathizers burn the bridge at Florence across the Tennessee River and Railway Bridge between Tuscumbia and Corinth in advance of gathering Union troops.
  • 1869 – M&C RR annual report describes bridge is to be built and completed in 1870.

For a complete timeline and more information, visit www.oldrailroadbridge.com.)

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