The Dart: Canal bridge will close to vehicles

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Editor&8217;s note: The dart is a weekly feature where a staff member throws a dart at a map of Demopolis, and then goes out to find a story associated with that area.

The Whitfield Canal Bridge is a metaphor for the whole of Demopolis &8212; as the bridge is in flux, moving to a pedestrian walkway, so is the city in flux &8212; a place tied to its past but looking toward the future.

As the only wooden bridge left open to vehicle traffic, the Whitfield Canal Bridge is due for closure and reappointment as a pedestrian-and-cyclists-only walkway.

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The state deemed the bridge unsafe for heavy trucks, and further inspection earlier this year led to the state&8217;s recommendation that the bridge &8212; and the Jackson Street Bridge &8212; be repaired. But the funding wasn&8217;t available to do both projects.

It would cost an estimated $196,000 to replace the bridge.

But council member Charles Jones can remember when the bridge was helpful in opening up the Canal Heights subdivision.

The bridge has a soft spot in Jones&8217; heart.

The bridge &8212; at least the third one built on that spot that Jones knows of &8212; spans a historical landmark, spanning a canal built by slaves of Gen. Nathan Bryan Whitfield sometime between 1845 and 1863. It was intended as a culvert to drain water away from the general&8217;s home, Gaineswood, to prevent the plantation from overflowing.

At 30 feet deep in some places and with steep banks and a limestone bottom, the canal has been a tempting place to play for children. In days past, youngsters might play along its banks or climb around the steep sides.

But there are dangers. Anytime the river overflows, the canal fills with water that can carry a person far downstream. Animals inhabit the area, including snakes that sun themselves in the bottom of the canal when it&8217;s dry.