A file photo of the historic Jones Bridge. These remnants of the bridge collapsed into the Chattahoochee River on Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018. AJC FILE PHOTO
Photo: Nick Arroyo
Photo: Nick Arroyo

Historic bridge collapses into the Chattahoochee River

A historic bridge built in the early 1900s collapsed into the Chattahoochee River, officials confirmed Saturday.

Bill Cox, superintendent of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, said the collapse of Jones Bridge at the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area took place about 1 p.m. Thursday. No one was injured.

Cox said the bridge section that fell Thursday was on the Fulton County side of the river, on land that is part of the national recreation area in Johns Creek. The metal support piers gave way, sending that end of the bridge’s frame down into the Chattahoochee’s waters.

The bridge, constructed in 1904, fell into disrepair in the 1930s. It hasn’t been usable for cars or even walkers for several decades and was reduced to shell of a bridge over the years. But it was still a special part of the park.

“It was an iconic feature, that everyone loved seeing and photographing,” Cox said.

Oddly enough, the bridge ended halfway across the river — until Thursday.

It was probably just the wear and tear of time taking its toll on the bridge, Cox said.

The Jones Bridge unit of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area stretches a couple of miles along two bends in the river. The Jones Bridge Unit features hiking trails, restrooms and picnic tables at each end of the park, a boat ramp and canoe launch. The remains of the original Jones Bridge stood within the park boundaries.

Supposedly, the missing portion of the bridge was stolen after World War II. Workers cut down the bridge without authorization, likely to sell the scrap metal. People in surrounding neighborhoods figured they were government-authorized, so they never said anything about it. That’s the story on the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area’s website. But when Cox was asked about the history Saturday, he said, “I don’t know know if it’s true. It’s anecdotes, and stories we’ve heard.”

Over the years, others have expressed more confidence about what happened to the bridge.

In this March file photo, a Canadian Goose is shown along the Chattahoochee River at Jones Bridge Park.

According to a 1998 AJC article about the history of the site, the late Nelle Jones, a member of the family that gave the park and the bridge its name, wrote about the bridge-stealing in 1985. Her notes are at the Gwinnett Historical Society.

“People living near the bridge took it for granted that the thieves had bought the steel and didn’t report the activity. No one knows who took the steel,” she wrote.

The late Odes Hamilton said in a 1991 newspaper article that he had heard the precious steel was sold in Charleston, S.C.

The caper was made easier because the bridge had been closed sometime during the Depression. Only foot traffic could get across, and even that was discouraged.

MORE: Historic covered bridge in Cobb County smashed again

Meanwhile, Jones wrote that Fulton County realized the bridge’s oak flooring needed to be replaced, and requested help from Gwinnett. “Gwinnett County was not willing to do this. So the bridge became unfit for use.”

The counties took off wooden planks at both ends and barricaded it.

In 1974 and 1975, Gwinnett pieced together 30 acres to create Jones Bridge Park.

But even though the bridge didn’t carry cars or people over the river, its remnants remained a historical piece, a special part of the landscape.

Cox said the chunk of bridge in water will be removed during the coming months.

Unitl then, Cox encouraged kayakers and canoers to use extra caution in the area to avoid getting caught in the structure, which may not easily visible in higher water levels. He said warning signs are up, and markers have been flagged where the collapsed piece of bridge is located in the water.

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