Friday, April 5, 2019

Bridging the Congaree (1)

By Paul Armstrong
April 6, 2019 
Updates: April 23, 2019; May 31, 2019; July 7, 2019; June 27, 2022

Gervais Street Bridge, 2019
Photo by Eden Armstrong
Hail to the time when I shall see
Thy smiling banks, sweet Congaree!
And when I shall be ferried across,
And see thy trees all covered with moss. (2)


For nearly 70 years before Columbia was founded, there were forts, trading posts, and settlements on the west side of the Congaree River in what is now Cayce. This location became part of Saxe-Gotha township in 1733.  By 1745, Swiss immigrant Martin Friday (nee Fridig) had acquired land along the Congaree and began operating an informal, private ferry across the river connecting Saxe-Gotha to the eastern bank and the area that would become Richland County. By act of the provincial government in 1754, Friday was vested with the rights to operate a public toll ferry at that location.  The west landing of Friday’s Ferry and the settlement around it were situated along the river just southeast of where the Cayce Quarry is located now. Martin Friday died in 1758 and the rights to the ferry passed to his heirs.

By the 1780s, the settlement around the western end of Friday’s Ferry had come to be known as Granby.  In 1785, Wade Hampton and his brother, Richard, purchased Friday’s Ferry and were granted exclusive rights by the state legislature to operate a toll ferry at Granby for fourteen years.  No one else was permitted to operate a ferry within three miles on either side of Friday’s Ferry.  On the opposite side of the river, a smaller settlement known as East Granby, sprang up at the eastern landing of Friday’s Ferry.  From East Granby, a road was developed to connect the ferry to what is now downtown Columbia.

As Columbia was established, Richard Hampton purchased land on opposite sides of the Congaree River at the foot of Senate Street. He intended to establish a ferry there but had not done so by the time he died in 1792.  Seven years after Richard’s death, his son, Henry P Hampton, was granted rights to half of the profits from the operations of a toll ferry across the Congaree River from the west end of Senate Street in Columbia.  The remaining half of the profits were designated to benefit the Columbia Academy.  This ferry was known as the Columbia Ferry and these same ferry rights were renewed by the legislature in 1814 and 1821.

By the mid-1820s, Friday’s Ferry had been acquired by Nicholas Hayne of Lexington and the Columbia Ferry was owned by Elisha Daniel of Richland County.

Wade Hampton’s Bridges

Ferry crossings for commerce and everyday travel were difficult and risky.  Several prosperous landowners in the area had property as well as agricultural and other enterprises on both sides of the Congaree.  They sought a more efficient way to traverse the river. So, between 1789 and 1796, Wade Hampton built at least three bridges over the Congaree in the vicinity of Friday’s Ferry at Granby. These bridges were destroyed by three of the disastrous floods that plagued the Congaree floodplain during the 1790s. (3)

Wade Hampton I
New York Public Library
On July 1, 1789, Wade Hampton petitioned the state legislature for the right to build a toll bridge over the Congaree at Friday’s Ferry. A subsequent House Journal entry indicates the bridge had been built and was in existence as of January 16, 1790.  Then, the Charleston City Gazette referenced an eye witness account saying the bridge at Granby was carried away by flood waters on March 29, 1790. 

Hampton was determined and decided to build again. On February 19, 1791, the state legislature enacted a statute granting Wade Hampton the rights to build a toll bridge over the Congaree near the location of Friday’s Ferry at Granby.  Hampton began construction of the bridge which was nearly completed when it, too, was swept away by flood waters in April of 1792.  This devastating freshet also wiped out the fledgling new town of Pinckneyville as well as John Compty’s bridge over the Broad River north of Columbia.

So, Hampton went back to the drawing board to come up with a bridge design that would better withstand the regularly recurring freshets on the Congaree.  His novel design was a curvilinear structure arched in the upstream direction.  This third bridge was 700 feet long with piers made of strong timbers set in water sills that were fastened with iron bolts to the stone beneath the river.  The bridge was 40 feet above the normal level of the water and the central span was nearly 100 feet long to allow large debris to pass through in the event of flooding. Unfortunately, the new design was insufficient to withstand the Great Yazoo Freshet of January 1796, and, for the third time, Wade Hampton had a bridge destroyed by flooding.  It would be 30 years before another attempt to bridge the Congaree was made. (4)

1827 Congaree Bridge at Gervais Street

After over two decades without a bridge over the Congaree River, citizens of Columbia began petitioning for one.   In 1818, the General Assembly granted the Columbia Bridge Company a charter to build toll bridges over the Congaree, Saluda, and Broad Rivers near Columbia.  The company failed to raise the necessary funds to begin construction in the two years allotted by the General Assembly and, therefore, forfeited the rights to build.  So, the company reorganized in 1823 with adequate funding, and, in December, the General Assembly again granted the Columbia Bridge Company the rights to build a toll bridge over the Congaree.  This time the privileges came with the conditions that the bridge be completed within four years. Among the officers of the Columbia Bridge Company who orchestrated this successful effort were John Taylor (president), Abraham Blanding (vice-president), and James T Goodwyn (secretary).

1827 Congaree Bridge with the Cover Being Constructed
Colorized version of an 1828 sketch by British Naval Captain Basil Hall
The company went straight to work, hiring William Briggs to design a plan for the bridge.  Briggs’ plan was completed by March of 1824 and was immediately approved by the officers of the bridge company. Briggs was also contracted to build the bridge and construction began that same month. It was opened for traffic on April 4, 1827, within the four years stipulated by the General Assembly. The bridge was erected at the foot of Gervais Street and crossed the Congaree River where it is approximately 1,400 feet wide. The structure had nine masonry piers in the river plus stone abutments on the east and west banks.  The piers were made of granite from local quarries and were 33 feet wide and 12 feet thick at the base while narrowing to ten feet thickness at the top.  The ten-span superstructure was an overhead truss design and, according to the Columbia Telescope, was built “of wood from our best pine forests”. The wooden plank roadway stood 37 feet above the normal level of the water below.  Briggs’ design called for the bridge to be covered with a roof and weatherboard siding with windows for ventilation.  This covering was not there when the bridge opened for traffic and was added in 1828.  The cost of the construction was $80,000, which would be equivalent to just over $2 million in 2019.

1827 Congaree Bridge Span
Sketched in 1828 by British Naval Captain Basil Hall
From The State, July 5, 1953
On opening day, a dinner was held on the bridge in honor of the builder and to celebrate the structure’s completion. The event was attended by about 150 invited guests. Government officials present included SC Governor John Taylor, SC Public Works Superintendent Abraham Blanding, SC Comptroller General Alexander Speer, Judge Henry DeSaussure, and Columbia Intendant William F DeSaussure.  Many toasts were offered, and a good time of celebration was enjoyed by those present.

For 38 years the 1827 bridge withstood the frequent Congaree flooding but had one close call.  On August 29, 1852, heavy rains from the Great Mobile Hurricane caused one of the greatest freshets ever on the Congaree River.  The resulting floods overflowed the banks with swirling water full of debris.  The waters rose up through the wooden roadway planks of the Columbia Bridge which remained intact.  But the Broad River Bridge north of Columbia was washed away and swept downstream, hitting and partially displacing one of the piers of the Columbia Bridge.  The bridge survived but was closed for weeks while the damaged pier was repaired.

Remains of the 1827 Congaree Bridge, 1865
Photo courtesy the Richland County Public Library
The bridge that had survived the worst of Mother Nature could not survive the torch. As Union troops approached Columbia in February of 1865, Confederate troops burned the wooden superstructure and roadbed of the 1827 bridge leaving only the stone piers and abutments standing.  This, along with the destruction of the Saluda and Broad River bridges, only served to delay Major General William T Sherman’s army about a day.  Union engineers constructed a pontoon bridge upstream of the burned-out Broad River Bridge for the men of Major General John Logan’s Fifteenth Corps to march over and into Columbia. However, when Union troops departed the devastated city three days later, Columbia was left without a street bridge over any of its rivers for the first time since 1827. (5)

1872 Congaree Bridge at Gervais Street

As Columbians began to recover their city, they again had to rely on ferries to bring people, wagons, animals, and cargo across the Congaree.  First the Kinsler family, and then J Sanders Guignard, ran the Columbia Ferry.  But with delays due to rough or rising waters, along with other limitations of ferry carriage, the citizens and businessmen in Columbia felt the necessity of a bridge.  As time passed and the Broad River Bridge was rebuilt and completed in December of 1869, Columbians began to grow restless and unhappy that the Columbia Bridge Company was unable to rebuild their bridge over the Congaree.

Finally, in September of 1871, the state’s Comptroller General, John L Neagle, purchased all the stock of the Columbia Bridge Company with personal funds and promised to rebuild the bridge soon.  In February of 1872, Neagle requested proposals from bridge builders to rebuild the bridge with an iron superstructure after repairing the existing piers and raising them by three feet. By March 10 the contract had been awarded to Watson Manufacturing Company of Paterson, NJ.  Their winning proposal was for a superstructure of the Post combination truss design which was invented by Simeon S. Post in 1863.  E W Mercer was the Watson agent for the project and W J Pieleet was their project manager. 
1872 Congaree Bridge, 1900
Photo courtesy of  the Richland County Public Library

Work on the piers began on June 3, 1872 and the iron work for the superstructure arrived from New Jersey in late July.  Although early work on the superstructure was hampered by rising waters, the first span was completed by August 20.  The superstructure was completed in November and the wooden flooring was laid that same month. The final work was to raise the approach road on the Lexington side.  This was completed and the toll bridge was opened to traffic on December 9, 1872.

In 1873, John Neagle used the bridge company stock as collateral for a loan and a mortgage.  Less than four years later, Neagle, a member of the Republican administration during Reconstruction, left the state after the Democrats gained control of state government in April of 1877.  In November of that same year, all the shares of the Columbia Bridge Company were sold in foreclosure.  

As the combined population of Richland and Lexington Counties increased by 75% between 1870 and 1900, citizens of the area began calling for free bridges over the Congaree and Broad Rivers.  The toll rates were considered exorbitant and were particularly difficult for the Lexington County farmers who had to pay a toll to deliver their produce to markets in Columbia. On top of that, the Columbia Mills Company, which opened its plant on Gervais Street in 1894, built its mill village across the river in the newly incorporated town of Brookland (now West Columbia).  A pedestrian toll was required for mill workers to walk across the bridge to and from work each day. This put pressure on government officials to provide a free bridge.

1872 Congaree Bridge, During 1908 Flood
Courtesy of Richland County Public Library
After several failed attempts in the 1890s and 1900s, the Richland and Lexington County governments reached agreement with the bridge companies in 1911 for the purchase of the Congaree and Broad River bridges. The state legislature authorized a bond issue for this purpose, and, in early January of 1912, the bridges were opened to free traversal. 

After the bridges became free, the increased traffic and age began to take their toll on the Congaree Bridge.  Richland County was spending thousands annually on upkeep, but the bridge continued to deteriorate.  Three successive grand juries during the early 1920s declared the bridge a danger to the public. Then, on September 11, 1925, two large overhead cross beams fell from the bridge’s truss system onto the roadway of the bridge and traffic was suspended while they were replaced.  To make matters even worse, the Broad River Bridge was destroyed by fire on November 29, 1925.  This significantly increased the traffic on the Congaree Bridge as vehicles traveling to and from the Dutch Fork area, Newberry, and beyond were detoured through Lexington. The planning already underway for a replacement bridge became even more urgent.

The old bridge was dismantled in December 1927 after the new Gervais Street Bridge had opened in November.  All that is left now are the west bank abutment and some of the granite blocks from the piers.  When the Congaree’s water level is low you can still see what remains of the 192-year-old granite piers peeking through the surface.

1927 Gervais Street Bridge

In 1924, a site survey was completed, and the state highway commission committed funding to build a modern bridge over the Congaree River to replace the aging and deteriorating 1872 bridge.  The highway department’s bridge team, under the direction of bridge engineer Joseph W Barnwell Jr, worked up the design which was approved by the highway commission in November of 1925.  Bids were requested beginning on November 15 and the construction contract was awarded in December to Hardaway Contracting Company of Columbus, GA.

Hardaway began site preparation work in February of 1926 and the actual bridge construction began on May 1. The bridge was completed and opened to traffic at 5:00 PM on November 10, 1927. Gervais Street was paved from Pulaski Street to the bridge in 1929, and the bridge's lighting system was installed in 1930.  The entire project, including the lights and paving, cost approximately $600,000, the equivalent of over $8.7 million in 2019.

Current Gervais Street Bridge Under Construction, 1926
The old bridge is visible beside the new one.
Photo Courtesy of Richland County Public Library
During construction, two workmen lost their lives when they fell from the partially constructed bridge and drowned in the river.  The victims were F R Causby and T E Mullinex who died in separate accidents seven months apart. Causby, of Morganton, NC, fell into the river on December 30, 1926 when the construction cable car he was unloading jerked wildly and caused him to lose his balance.  He was carried downstream by the currents and his body was recovered three weeks later. Mullinex, from Anderson, SC, drowned on July 22, 1927, when a scaffolding board came loose and caused him to fall into the water.  His body was recovered that same morning.

Gervais Street Bridge Lamp Post, 2019
Photo by Eden Armstrong
After years of crossing a rickety bridge designed for pedestrians, equestrians, and animal-drawn vehicles, the citizens of Columbia and Brookland now had a splendid bridge designed to support motor vehicle traffic into the 21st century.  The new bridge’s roadway, at 36 feet, was the widest in the state at the time.  Additionally, a six-foot sidewalk on each side provided separate walking space so pedestrians no longer had to squeeze between motor vehicles and the side of the bridge superstructure.

This current bridge is 1,415 feet long and its innovative use of reinforced concrete required 1.5 million pounds of reinforcing steel and 52 million pounds of concrete.  The structure’s 132-foot arches are supported by ten reinforced concrete piers.  The cast iron light posts display images of the state's palmetto and crescent symbols and add to the majestic appearance of one of Columbia’s most photographed landmarks.

Additional Congaree River Bridges

The opening of the Blossom Street Bridge in 1953 gave Columbia two permanently coexisting street bridges over the Congaree for the first time in history.  Then, in 1976, a third bridge was built connecting Columbia’s Hampton Street to the new Jarvis Klapman Boulevard in West Columbia. So today, three bridges over the Congaree River provide direct automobile access to the streets of Columbia’s city center. (6)


  1. This article discusses non-railroad bridges over the Congaree River at Columbia, SC.  The histories of railroad bridges and bridges over the Broad and Saluda Rivers at or near Columbia are beyond the intended scope of this article.  David Brinkman has compiled a large amount of information on the history of the Broad River Bridges at this web page:
  2. This poem is attributed to a student who attended South Carolina College when there was no bridge over the Congaree River. It was part of a letter sent to the editor of the Daily Phoenix and was printed in that newspaper on July 10, 1867.
  3. John Hammond Moore wrote that Wade Hampton built four bridges over the Congaree during the 1790s that were all destroyed by flooding, but he did not cite the source of this statement.
  4. In 1798, Wade Hampton petitioned the legislature for the right to rebuild his bridge since the two-year rebuilding time period allowed by the 1791 act had elapsed.   This request was granted by an act passed on December 21, 1798. However, according to Edwin Green, “The bridge authorized by this last Act was never built, so far as the evidence shows”.
  5. The Broad River bridge destroyed by flood in 1852 was replaced with a bridge built in 1858.  It was this 1858 Broad River Bridge that was burned by Confederates to delay Sherman’s entry into Columbia.
  6. The Interstate-77 bridge over the Congaree River is outside the Columbia City limits and serves a bypass highway rather than providing direct access to city streets.


  • “A new town, in South-Carolina…” National Gazette, Philadelphia, PA, May 17, 1792, page 2.
  • “Bridge Beams Fall.” The State [Columbia, SC], September 11, 1925, page 2.
  • “Bridge Celebration.” The Columbia Telescope [Columbia, SC], April 12, 1827, page 2-3.
  • “Bridge Foreman Drowns in River.” The State [Columbia, SC], December 31, 1926, page 12.
  • Brinkman, David.  “1818 and 1870 Surveys and 1939 Aerial photos pin-point Granby.” Finding Granby.  (Accessed March 15, 2019.)
  • “Broad River Bridge Destroyed by Fire.” The State [Columbia, SC], November 30, 1925, page 1-2.
  • Carrillo, Richard F. Archeological Excavations at Pinckneyville, Site of Pinckney District, 1791-1800. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Institute of Archeology and Anthropology, 1972, page 8. (Accessed March 9, 2019.)
  • “Columbia---Her Beginning as a City.” The State [Columbia, SC], November 14, 1909, page 9.
  • “The Columbia Bridge Company”, The State [Columbia, SC], March 31, 1897, page 2.
  • “Columbia’s New Congaree River Span is 98 per cent Completed; Open Nov 1.” The Columbia Record [Columbia, SC], August 14, 1927, page 1.
  • "Completion of Neagle's Bridge." The Daily Phoenix [Columbia, SC], December 8, 1871, p. 2.
  • Drayton, John. A View of South Carolina. Charleston, SC: W P Young, 1802, page 32.
  • “Drowns in River after Fall from Congaree Bridge.” The Columbia Record [Columbia, SC], July 27, 1927, page 1.
  • Easterby, J H, ed., The Journal of the Commons House of Assembly, March 28, 1740 – March 19, 1750, Columbia, SC: South Carolina Archives Department, 1962, page 399.
  • Faust, D. Acts and Resolutions of the General Assembly of the State of South Carolina Passed in December 1818. Printed by D. Faust, 1819, pages 16-22.
  • Faust, D. Acts and Resolutions of the General Assembly of the State of South Carolina Passed in December 1819. Printed by D. Faust, 1820, pages 52-54.
  • Faust, D and J M. Acts and Resolutions of the General Assembly of the State of South Carolina Passed in December 1823. Printed by D. and J M Faust, 1824, Pages 41-43.
  • Green, Edwin L. A History of Richland County, Volume 1. Greenville, SC: Southern Historical Press, Inc, 1996, pages 15-18, 113-114, 120-121.
  • Green Edwin L. “From an Old Newspaper.” The State [Columbia, SC], April 6, 1924, page 13.
  • “Guignard Gives Views on Bridge.” The State [Columbia, SC], August 20, 1922, page 16.
  • Hampton, Wade. “Hampton, Wade, Petition, and Supporting Copy of a Deed, in Saxe Gotha, Requesting the Right to Build a Bridge on Lands Commonly Called Fridigs Ferry and to Charge a Toll.” Petition, South Carolina Department of Archives and History, (Petition dated July 1, 1789, supporting deed dated July 30, 1785.)
  • "Hardaway Gets Bridge Contract.” The State [Columbia, SC], December 16, 1925, page 1.
  • Inhabitants of Columbia, Petition Requesting a Charter be Granted To The Columbia Bridge Company to Build a Bridge over the Congaree River, Series: S165015 Year: 1821 Item: 00057, Petitions to the General Assembly, South Carolina Department of Archives and History. (Accessed March 31, 2019.)
  • Kinzer, Mark.  Nature’s Return. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2017, chapter 5.
  • “Local Items.” The Daily Phoenix [Columbia, SC], September 5, 1871, page 2.
  • “New Gervais Street Bridge Would Cost Quarter of Million.” The Columbia Record [Columbia, SC], August 11, 1922, page 10.
  • McCord, David J, ed.  The Statutes at Large of South Carolina, Volume 9. Columbia, SC: A S Johnston, 1841, pages 177, 256-257, 300, 337-340, 390, 476, 510.;view=1up;seq=7 (Accessed March 9, 2019.)
  • Mock, Cary. “Once Upon a Front…” South Carolina Department of Natural Resources Website, Columbia, SC, 2019. (Accessed March 9, 2019.)
  • Moore, John Hammond. Columbia and Richland County. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1993, page 51.
  • Morse, Jedidiah. The American Universal Geography. Boston, MA: Thomas & Andrews, 1805, page 703-704. (Accessed March 11, 2019.)
  • National Register of Historic Places Application Form for Pinckneyville, SC. State Historic Preservation Office, South Carolina Department of Archives and History. (Accessed March 10, 2019.)
  • “New Bridge Opens.” The State [Columbia, SC], November 5, 1976, page 1.
  •  “Old Bridge Now to be Torn Down.” The State [Columbia, SC], December 2, 1927, page 14.
  • “Paving Work Almost Done.” The State [Columbia, SC], June 9, 1929, page 3.
  • “Plans for Span over Congaree Given Approval.” The State [Columbia, SC], November 15, 1925, page 1.
  • “Pour Concrete at Early Date.” The State [Columbia, SC], March 31, 1926, page 12.
  • Ramsay, David, History of South Carolina, Volume II. Charleston, SC: David Longworth, 1809, page 311-312.
  • Salley, A S. “First Congaree Bridge”. The State [Columbia, SC], July 5, 1953, pages 64-65.
  • Scott, Edwin J. Random Recollections of a Long Life. Columbia, SC: Charles A Calvo, Jr, 1884, pages 163-164.
  • “Seeking to Obtain Land Near Bridge.” The State [Columbia, SC], November 3, 1925, page 2.
  • Stevens, Michael E, ed. Journals of the House of Representatives, 1789-1790. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1984, page 374.;view=1up;seq=404 (Accessed March 11, 2019.)
  • Stevens, Michael E, ed. Journals of the House of Representatives, 1792-1794. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1988, page 163.;view=1up;seq=9 (Accessed March 11, 2019.)
  • “Survey for New Gervais street Bridge Completed. To Cost $500,000.”  The Columbia Record [Columbia, SC], July 18, 1924, page 10.
  • “To Place Lights on New Bridge.” The State [Columbia, SC], February 23, 1928, page 12.
  •  “Traffic Passing Over Gervais Street Bridge.” The State [Columbia, SC], November 12, 1927, page 1.
  • “Watson v Columbia Bridge Co.” Reports of Cases Heard and Determined by the Supreme Court of South Carolina. Volume XIII. From November, 1879, to April, 1880, Inclusive. Frederick D. Linn & Co, Law Publishers and Booksellers. Jersey City, N. J., 1881, pages 433-439.
  • “Would Have More Rural Policemen.” The State [Columbia, SC], September 13, 1921, page 6.


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