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1823 Nashville Toll Bridge Site - Trail of Tears National Historic Trail

The first bridge in Nashville, which was also the first bridge over the Cumberland River, was built in 1823 at the northeast corner of the city's public square, near the location where the Victory Memorial Bridge now stands. It was a three-span, covered toll bridge constructed of wood and iron, supported by stone abutments on each bank, and two stone piers in the river channel. In the late 1830's thousands of Cherokees crossed this bridge on the Trail of Tears. By the mid-nineteenth century, the new generation of steamboats was too tall to pass under the bridge, so in 1851 the first Woodland Street Bridge was built to replace it and the 1823 Nashville Toll Bridge was dismantled.

The 1823 Nashville Toll Bridge

Detail of an illustration from an 1832 map of Tennessee by Matthew Rhea showing the 1823 Nashville Toll Bridge. This is one of the very few period illustrations of the bridge.

The 1823 Nashville Toll Bridge

Detail of an 1831 map of Nashville showing the 1823 Nashville Toll Bridge crossing the Cumberland River at the northeast corner of the Public Square.

While researching the Trail of Tears route through Nashville, the Native History Association discovered that the west abutment of the 1823 Nashville Toll Bridge still exists, almost completely intact. The massive stone structure is in a surprisingly good state of preservation, considering it's been completely neglected for more than 160 years.

On November 14, 2012, with assistance from the environmental group Save The Cumberland, we visited the base of the west abutment by boat, the only safe way to access the structure currently. The photograph below is a front view of the abutment.

1823 Nashville Toll Bridge abutment

This stone abutment is one of the last remaining structures from the 1823 Nashville Toll Bridge, used by the Cherokee on the Trail of Tears.

The stone abutment on the east side of the river stood intact until it was heavily impacted by the construction of the Victory Memorial Bridge in the 1950's. Only the bottom 5 courses (rows) of stone still exist in place.

1823 Nashville Toll Bridge abutment

A few rows of the east abutment of the 1823 Nashville Toll Bridge still remain intact.

On November 23, 2013, with major assistance from the National Park Service, Historic Nashville, Inc., and Save The Cumberland, we brought bridge engineer and historic bridge expert Jim Barker, of J.A Barker Engineering, down from Indiana to inspect the structure. Based on his observations, he is confident that it is an abutment of the 1823 bridge

The 1823 Nashville Toll Bridge site lies on the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail. It was considered to be a high-potential interpretive site by the National Park Service even before the discovery of the abutments, which may be the only remaining documented bridge structures associated with the Trail of Tears in the country. The significance of the site is further enhanced by the fact that the bridge was designed by Lewis Wernwag, an influential engineer who developed several innovative construction techniques and built many famous bridges in the early nineteenth century.

The west abutment is in relatively good shape, but it is in an extremly vulnerable condition. Trees and vegetation growing along the top are damaging the stonework. The photo below shows damage on one corner of the structure cause by tree roots. Also, if the trees were to fall, from a high wind for example, they could pull stones off of the top and the sides. It's our hope that measures will be taken very soon to remove the trees and vegetation and stabilize the top of the structure.

Pratt Truss Steel Bridge At Port Royal State Historic Park

Damage caused by tree roots on top of the 1823 Nashville Toll Bridge west abutment.

The site is undeveloped and currently is not open to the the public, but we are participating in continuing discussions with representatives of the Metropolitan Government of Nashville, the state of Tennessee, and federal agencies regarding plans for preserving and protecting the site, as well as utilizing it as an educational resource for the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail.

Links

"Bridge expert examines historic Cumberland River crossing" - The Tennessee newspaper article on Jim Barker's visit to the 1823 Nashville Toll Bridge Site

"The First Bridge Over The Cumberland" - A collection of newspaper articles about the Nashville Toll Bridge, dated from 1818 to 1824. From Nashville History, a blog by Debie Oeser Cox.

"Colossus Bridge Designer - Lewis Wernwag" - An article about Lewis Wernwag in Structure magazine by Dr. F.E. Griggs, Jr.

Trail of Tears National Historic Trail - National Park Service


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