have participated in the 1828 reconstruction effort was a local businessman
named John Godwin. The project may
have given Godwin his first opportunity to observe King’s prowess firsthand.
He must have been impressed, for he acquired King as his own slave in 1830.
Godwin was no stereotypical slave
driver. He was a house builder who recognized King’s potential to help him expand his business. He taught King everything he knew about construction,
giving him the opportunity to develop
his skills. The quality of King’s work
earned Godwin’s respect, and over time
he began to treat King more as a business partner than as a laborer. Their unusual partnership became the most formative
relationship in King’s life.
Legend has it that King traveled to Ohio sometime before 1832 and even attended Oberlin College. Lupold and
French, however, find no evidence to support that story. King is more likely to have spent those years honing his
skills in Cheraw. Meanwhile, Godwin’s ambitions extended beyond building houses. By 1832, with King’s help, he had sufficiently established himself as a builder
to win a major contract in a town more than
300 mi away.
Godwin was shrewd enough to realize that
there was big money to be made in building
bridges on the frontier, at the western edge of
white settlement. In the Deep South in the 1830s, that frontier lay roughly along the Chattahoochee River, which forms
the southern part of the Georgia–Alabama border. Perhaps
that is why he was willing to move his entire household, including King, to the vicinity of Columbus, Georgia, a new
town at the navigational head of the Chattahoochee, to build
the town’s first river crossing.
This first bridge in Columbus, which has been referred to
as the City Bridge or Dillingham Street Bridge, was proto-
typical of the structures that King would favor throughout
his career. It required three 20 to 25 ft high stone foundations
constructed in the dry by means of cofferdams. An approximately 18 ft high timber pier rose from each foundation to
support the superstructure. Each of the three main spans was
a Town lattice truss approximately 186 ft long.
Even on this, the first of many river crossings in which
Godwin and King were involved, the two
men played distinct roles. Godwin secured the
contract and managed the financial side of the
project, while King directed the construction.
Other slaves did most of the manual labor,
while a few carpenters and masons carried out
specialized tasks. But only King knew how to
erect a lattice truss with the camber necessary
to withstand the test of time.
The City Bridge opened in 1833. Its success firmly established Godwin’s—and King’s—reputations. Over the next
decade more contracts followed, including three more major
crossings of the Chattahoochee: a 652 ft long bridge at West
Between 1832 and 1842, King
also built courthouses, warehouses, a breakwater, and probably many
homes as well. And when a flood
washed away the superstructure of
the City Bridge in the spring of 1841,
workers under King’s supervision retrieved the trusses, hauled them back
upstream, and rehabilitated them,
reopening the structure in just three
months. Also during this period, on
April 28, 1839, he married Frances
Gould Thomas, a free woman he had
The covered bridge over the
Chattahoochee River in Eu-
faula, Alabama, below, was
built by Horace King in 1838
and 1839. The painting Pont
du Columbus, by Francis de la
Porte, was completed in 1838.
COLLECTION OF THE COLUMBUS MUSEUM, GEORGIA, MUSEUM PURCHASE, TOP; WIKIPEDIA, BOTTOM
SEPTEMBER 2012 Civil Engineering