RICHARD HYATT: Visions seen from a bridge through time

October 10, 2013 

When we gathered at the river to dedicate the Frank K. Martin Pedestrian Bridge on Tuesday, the endless lineup of speakers pointed out how it brings together two communities and two states. But they didn't spend much time talking about how it can connect our past and future.

The $6.2 million spent on enhancements brings back to life a structure that spanned the Chattahoochee River since 1858 when former slave Horace King finished the Upper Wagon Bridge. Floods washed it away and he rebuilt it in 1862. Soon after it was burned by Union troops during the Battle of Columbus in 1865.

John Pemberton, a Confederate colonel, was slashed by a saber during that struggle and like many wounded soldiers he became addicted to morphine. After the war, the pharmacist tried to develop a cure for his addiction, coming up with an elixir of caffeine and cocaine. The world knows his French Wine Coca -- minus the cocaine -- as Coca-Cola.

The 14th Street bridge had several incarnations before the current foundation was laid. It was dedicated April 16, 1922, on the 57th anniversary of what many consider the final land battle of the Civil War.

Another chapter in its story unfolded Tuesday when officials from both sides of the Chattahoochee River gathered to rename it for Martin, a highly skilled attorney and the 64th mayor of Columbus.

It was another opportunity for current Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson to cut a ribbon and a chance for Phenix City Mayor Eddie Lowe to cross the bridge into Georgia.

"We take what we have and use it," Tomlinson said, reminding everyone of the city's fondness for restoration.

"It is about connection, engagement and inclusion," Lowe said.

The rickety old bridge was closed to vehicles in 2000, and architect Neil Clark was given the assignment of transforming the old back into new.

"We have created a place for people," he said. "Let's give a hand for the bridge."

And so people did, paying homage to a project that promises so much. It links two cities and two states. But it will also bring the campuses of Columbus State University and Troy University closer together, connect walking and biking trails on both riverbanks and will become a viewing stand so people can watch rafters brave the rapids below.

A lot was said about vision during the ceremony and it was more than civic hyperbole. Martin was a visionary and an instigator for so much, and others like him continue to push and prod. Standing on that bridge you see things left unfinished and things left undone.

So maybe the bridge that helped give us Coca-Cola can become a passageway to a future we can only dream about.

-- Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him at hyatt31906@knology.net.

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