By John M. Nolan
Greenville’s Main Street bridge is used daily or weekly by many locals, but it is a familiar city feature that is easily overlooked. Its famous neighbor, the Liberty Bridge, seems to get all the glory (and rightly so). However, the evolution of the primary Reedy River crossing is worthy of reflection.
Sometime after Lemuel Alston first laid the plat for the “Village of Pleasantburg at Greenville Court House” on the north side of the banks of the river near the Reedy Falls, by necessity locals needed to create a navigable crossing over the water.
With the small population still only around 500 by the 1820s, all that was needed was a sturdy tree for people to cross while wagons and horses made their way through the rocky riverbed. Col. S.S. Crittenden, a lifelong city resident from the 1820s until the first decade of the 20th century and author of the 1903 book “Greenville Century,” wrote: “The first bridge I can remember was a substantial foot log. This was twice replaced, in successive years, by foot bridges.” The location of the Gower, Cox and Markley Carriage Factory next to the bridge received plenty of steady business from people needing carriage repairs or replacements from the rough treatment of fording the river.
When Furman University moved to the south bank of the Reedy River in 1851 and the first railroad line came to town a few years later near Augusta Road, the flow of traffic steadily increased into the West End. The bridge needed an upgrade.
Greenville’s second mayoral election after being chartered as a city brought the issue of Main Street’s bridge to the fore. In 1870, Thomas C. Gower (namesake in the Gower, Cox and Markley Carriage Factory name) won the election and had a major new bridge built. This large wooden structure allowed two lanes of traffic and connected the two growing ends of town in a way that voters had hoped.
After two decades of wear and tear, Gower’s bridge was replaced with an iron bridge heavy enough to carry even the horse-drawn trolley cars. After another 20 years, this “shaky and resonant ‘tin’ bridge” needed replacement, which was done in conjunction with a $300,000 street paving project throughout downtown. The iron Main Street bridge was moved down to the River Street ford to replace the wooden footbridge that still spanned that crossing.
Construction began on the current concrete Main Street bridge on Sept. 19, 1910, and it opened one year and 10 days later at a cost of $30,000. It is only the third major bridge to span the Reedy River’s Main Street crossing and has held up extremely well for a bridge that has been in use for half of Greenville’s history since its founding in 1797.
John M. Nolan is owner of Greenville History Tours (www.greenvillehistorytours.com) and author of “A Guide to Historic Greenville, SC” and “Lost Restaurants of Greenville, SC.”