The Bridge House




Martha LeSueur Nicholson, Staff


Picture courtesy of Albany on the Flint by Mary Ellen Bacon, shows the original Bridge Hall as it was known in 1857.

Albany’s history lives on in the newly restored Bridge House which opened in August as the Albany Welcome Center.  The long awaited Center saw months of construction delays, but is now welcoming visitors to Albany during the hours of 9–5 Monday–Friday, 10–4 Saturday, and 12–4 Sunday.  


We visited the Center for a personal observation and were met at the door by a friendly representative of the Visitors and Convention Bureau who pointed out the various areas to explore.  There is a large display of a scale for weighing cotton bales in the entry and pictures of workers picking cotton in the fields. A miniature of the Ray Charles fountain in Veteran’s Park farther down the street graces the doorway.  Other displays portray the history of the building and other places to visit in Albany and Southwest GA.  Many free brochures are available of local and area attractions.  We enjoyed browsing the gift shop of Albany souvenirs which includes products from our own AHS graduate, Paula Deen.


Upstairs we found a phenomenal view of the Flint River, Broad Ave. bridge, and Turtle Park.  A train chose that moment to pass on the railroad trestle nearby making it picture perfect! 


A large meeting room on the second floor with a kitchen, modern AV equipment, and large viewing screen will accommodate a crowd.  The beautiful pine wood floors were made from beams that were taken from the old Flint River Textile Mill before it was demolished, retaining even more Albany history.


Be sure to include a visit to the Bridge House on your next trip to Albany.  You will be glad you did!  Albany’s former mayor, Paul Keenan, donated the property to the county, and Joshua Brown, Albany Herald reporter, gives an excellent account of the building’s colorful history in this very interesting article which I hope everyone will take the time to read.  I think you will enjoy it.  


***Bridge House has long, complex history  ~ Joshua Brown

The newly restored structure, courtesy The Albany Journal


ALBANY — Built in 1858 (accounts vary whether it was 1857 or 1858) along with the first bridge spanning the Flint River in south Georgia, Albany’s Bridge House has served in many capacities over the years.

From autoparts store to theater to meeting place, the building initially served as a toll booth on the west side of a bridge over the Flint River.
The building originally guarded a 930-foot bridge that Albany founder Col. Nelson Tift built to allow transportation of goods across the river.
He owned the hand-operated ferry that travelers had previously used to cross the river, but built the bridge and Bridge House because it was difficult for people crossing the river to navigate the steep slopes on either side of the Flint.
Tift asked county leaders — Albany was then a part of Baker County — to build a bridge spanning the river, but they refused. He eventually built it at a cost of $30,000.
A toll of 75 cents was charged for a four-horse carriage, while livestock were charged at two cents per head for crossing the bridge. People traveling by foot were allowed to cross for free.
Several years after the bridge was built, unrest concerning the toll developed in the community and may have resulted in the burning of the bridge, though it was rebuilt shortly thereafter.
The reconstructed bridge and bridge house was sold to the county for $20,000, though Tift retained the land on either side of them.
The bridge was designed by master bridge builder Horace King, a South Carolina native and slave until he was freed by an act of the Alabama legislature in 1846. He also served as foreman for the Bridge House project.
On the first floor of the building, one side served as the tollkeeper’s quarters, who reportedly sold liquor to road-weary travelers and the other side served as the tollkeeper’s office.
The second floor, known as Tift’s Hall, served as a theater for traveling acting groups, ballroom and meeting hall, with a dais at one end for performing musicians or speakers. The hall served as a prominent location for many of the community’s social events.
Tift hired artists from New York to mural scenes in the upper room, which was open from one end of the building to the other. The hall was widely considered the most beautifully decorated in the state during the mid 1800s.
Several prominent actors of the time performed at the hall, including Laura Keen, Fay Templeton and Harry McCarthy, among others.
Historians say the upstairs room was also used for a time as a meeting place for the Ku Klux Klan, which would relay messages by telling members to “meet above the arch,” a reference to the arched windows on the building’s facade.
The Bridge House was entered into the National Register of Historic Places by the U.S. Park Service in the mid-1970s. The register’s Web site lists the period of prominence as the latter half of the 19th century.
P.A. Keenan occupied the building about 1915 when he moved his Empire Smithing Co. there. His wife, Mattie W. Keenan, bought the property in 1925 and it remained in the family for the next 85 years.
Empire Smithing eventually turned to dealing in auto repair, auto parts and scrap iron. The business’ name was later changed to Keenan Auto Parts Co. but was bought by General Parts Inc. in 1990.
In 2001, the Bridge House was the focal piece of an eminent domain battle between former Albany political figure Paul Keenan and Dougherty County, as the commission wanted to acquire the property as part of its Downtown Albany Master Plan.
Keenan eventually donated the building, an appraisal of which values it at $525,000, to the county, while the rest of his property on the block was acquired by Albany Tomorrow Inc. for development according to its downtown master plan and demolished.
The building has undergone several renovations during its 150-year history. The arched entry way was eventually squared off and the arch bricked over, though it has been restored as part of the latest renovation.
During the Civil War, its cellars were used as a packing house and the back yard used as a slaughter pen and livestock were pickled for the Confederate Navy. front082608e.html


 Courtesy of Albany Herald



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