Beard Bridge 1818

Noted Architect Designed First Yadkin Bridge

by James Brawley 
Salisbury Post, Sunday, May 7, 1972

One of the foremost engineers and architects in the United States had connections with both North Carolina and Rowan County in the period between 1818 and 1840.  His name was Ithiel Town, a Connecticut Yankee who was born in 1784, the son of a farmer.

As a youth he worked as a carpenter and taught school.  Adventuring to Boston he acquired a knowledge of architecture under Asher Benjamin, an architect and prolific writer on the subject.  While there he was chosen to make improvements on the State House at Boston.

His reputation was made in 1814 when he designed Center Church on the New Haven, Connecticut green. He later designed the state capitols in Indianapolis, Indiana and in Raleigh.

Engraving of Ithiel Town Lattice Truss Bridge

On January 28, 1820 he was granted a patent for a truss bridge and from that time forward he was the best known bridge builder in the country.  His return from this work was greater than from his work as an architect.  He published in 1821 a book on iron and wood bridges which became the bible for bridge-building in America.

Town's abilities probably came to the attention  of Lewis Beard of Salisbury when Beard entered his son at Yale in New Haven where Town lived.  Beard owned a large tract of land on the Yadkin River adjoining Alexander Long's Ferry and the Trading Ford.  Unhappy with the high prices Long charged for using his ferry, Beard contracted with Ithiel Town for $30,000 to erect a bridge across the stream near where the present Highway 29 crosses.

This sawn-plank ''lattice'' truss bridge was Town's own invention and proved unequal for simplicity, strength and symmetry.  It was also the most economical bridge that had been invented up to that time.

Two years after Beard introduced Town to North Carolina, the city of Fayetteville employed him to erect a bridge across the Cape Fear River.  In 1825 he was awarded an MA degree from Yale for his innovative work and in that same year Camden, S.C. sought his talents to erect a bridge over the Wateree.

Samuel Lemly of Salisbury in 1825 using Town's design erected a bridge across the South Yadkin River which drew admiring praise from the local newspaper which called it ''as good as any in the South.''

When in 1833 the state of North Carolina cast about for someone to draw plans for a new capital at Raleigh to replace the one burned in 1831, Ithiel Town was the best known architect in the country.  He and his partner Alexander Jackson Davis, were employed to draw the design. 


[The bridge designed by Ithiel Town, first called the Beard Bridge, later Locke's Bridge, fell into disrepair after the Civil War.  c. 1899 a new Piedmont Toll Bridge was built upon the same stone piers.  The Beard Bridge site has been determined eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.]

Piedmont Toll Bridge c. 1899

Piedmont Toll Bridge built c. 1899

c. 1899 the Piedmont Toll Bridge was erected on the same stone piers built for the Ithiel Town bridge in 1818.  This bridge connected Salisbury with present Winston-Salem, NC.  This toll bridge was threatened and survived extensive flooding in 1916.  When the first state free bridge (the Wil-Cox bridge) was erected in 1922, the Piedmont Toll Bridge was dismantled and re-assembled at Reeves Island down river.  The five stone piers which supported the bridge, the abutment on the Rowan county side, and approaches to these bridges remain as reminders of bygone days.

Beard Bridge piers photo by James Brawley c. 1953

Photo of Beard Bridge Piers by James Brawley c. 1953

First Railroad Bridge c. 1855

Sketch of rail bridge 1864 by Robert Knox Sneden
Rail bridge, looking west, 1864
Sketch by Robert Knox Sneden, from Eye of the Storm

The North Carolina Railroad built a rail line from Charlotte to Goldsboro, spanning the Yadkin River c. 1855.  This rail bridge was saved by Confederate forces on April 12, 1865.  It fell into the river in 1890, carrying a train.  It was quickly replaced with a temporary bridge the same year, restoring rail service.  One of the present rail bridges was built upon the original large granite block abutments and piers.

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