CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. — The Gateway to the New South may no longer be the bustling railroad hub it once was, but the city is home to an impressive railroad structure.
The swing bridge over the Cumberland River dates to 1859. Originally built by Irish stone masons, the 678-foot-long bridge is normally more than 50 feet above the river. The structure, which can swing to allow taller ships to pass through, originally served the Louisville & Nashville Railroad.
“This bridge is an important piece of Clarksville’s past and its future,” Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen said in a recent news release announcing the state of Tennessee is helping to refurbish the bridge. “I’m pleased we could provide the funds necessary to rehabilitate the bridge and transform it into a beautiful gateway into the city’s historic river district.”
The $945,926 from the state will help improve the bridge’s structural integrity and safety. The project will also help with “economic development and urban renewal efforts,” officials said.
“This bridge is so unique and rich with history,” state Rep. Phillip Johnson said in a news release.
The bridge was the scene of an “Appalling Catastrophe,” as newspapers couched it.
In September 1906, a northbound Louisville & Nashville Railroad passenger train – No. 102 – steamed toward the swing bridge, which was open, waiting for a steamboat to pass through on its way to Paducah, Ky. The engineer, apparently unaware that he was supposed to stop, steamed toward the looming catastrophe.
The train’s locomotive, its tender, a mail car and a baggage car plunged into the Cumberland River; the train’s passenger coaches, however, remained on the trestle with passengers inside.
Two crew members died in the crash.