History March 28, 2022 at 01:00 pm

Freed slave Horace King built America’s biggest bridges in the 1800s. Meet his son who was solid in his own right

Mildred Europa Taylor | Head of Content

Mildred Europa Taylor March 28, 2022 at 01:00 pm

March 28, 2022 at 01:00 pm | History

Horace King and his son John King. Photos: Alchetron/Public domain image

Horace King was born into slavery on a South Carolina plantation but he rose to become a prolific architect and the most respected bridge builder in west Georgia, Alabama, and northeast Mississippi from the 1830s until the 1880s. Horace King built massive bridges, industrial facilities, courthouses, and other significant buildings across the southern United States.

Although most of his projects have been destroyed, his extraordinary abilities and genius can currently be found in the freestanding, three-story spiral staircase at the state capitol in Montgomery, a structure that is documented as one of the most prized works of architecture in Alabama. Before Horace King’s death in 1885, he formed the King Brothers Bridge Company with his four children, all of whom would eventually become successful builders and designers.

John T. King was one of them. Born in Alabama in 1846, John King continued the family business by designing and building bridges, commercial buildings, and houses in Georgia and Alabama, as stated by history.

He started off as a bridge keeper for the Dillingham Bridge in Columbus, Georgia when he was only 14. In 1872, he moved to LaGrange with some relatives. And when his father fell ill, John King became head of King Brothers Bridge Company overseeing many projects. Under his leadership, the King Brothers Bridge Company built bridges, “designed and built in the town of LaGrange the Lloyd Building on East Court Square, a sash and blind factory operated by the Kings, the Hotel Andrews, numerous houses, and the LaGrange Cotton Oil Factory which was the town’s first “modern” textile mill to be built following the Civil War,” according to BlackPast.

Like his father, John King also designed and built covered bridges in many areas including LaGrange, West Point, Columbus, and eastern Alabama. As one who believed that education could get Blacks out of poverty, John King was a trustee of Atlanta’s Clark College (later Clark Atlanta University), first from 1893 to 1918 and then in 1924 and 1926.

While working with Clark College, he made business contacts there and that earned him a contract to build the Negro Building at the Cotton States and International Exposition held in Atlanta. The Negro Building opened on October 21, 1895, a month after the Exposition began, and it was the first designated space for the display of African-American achievement in a white-dominated setting since Emancipation, according to Atlanta Magazine.

Besides its designs and art pieces, the building became a gathering place for civil rights leaders, religious leaders, and philanthropists, the magazine added.

Some 31 years after the Exposition, John King died. The designer and bridge builder passed away on November 9, 1926, and was buried at Eastview Cemetery in LaGrange. BlackPast cited his obituary in the LaGrange Reporter that stated that “he had the confidence of a large circle of white friends. Among his own race, he was a constructive leader and wielded a wholesome influence.”

Today, even though most of his family business’ bridges and buildings have been destroyed due to other infrastructural projects, the Bridge House in Albany, Georgia, remains, as well as, the Red Oak bridge in Georgia that is still in use.

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