The Landscape of a Forgotten Bridge

In 1908 a wooden covered bridge was built over the Tallapoosa River in Daviston, Alabama. The bridge replaced a ferry that had been used by the local community to cross the river in the area. W.H. Wynn and his son built the bridge that stretched just over 850 feet from the south to the north bank. Five pilings were created with rock from the north riverbank and concrete to support the bridge. These pilings are all that remain of the Miller Bridge today.

Images of the bridge when it was at the height of its use tells a much different story than what can be seen from the same location today. One image in particular taken from the south bank of the river with a perspective of a lower elevation looking up at the bridge. This angle and perspective give a sense of how incredibly long the completely wooden covered bridge was. In the photo waves in the wood are visible where the bridge had changed shape over time and the weight of the bridge and its travelers had caused the bridge to sink just a few inches in certain spots.

The town of New Site, several miles from the north side of the Tallapoosa River, received a significant boost as it became better connected to the larger city of Dadeville on the south side of the river. The Miller Bridge offered a more reliable and quicker way to cross than the ferries that had been used to cross the river.

Just as an increase of travelers and the size of their transportation increased the Miller Bridge was replaced by a modern bridge of concrete and steel in 1955. When looking at the modern bridge today, it does not have the same dips and waves that developed in the Miller Bridge over time. It is has taken the sixty-two years of use with much less damage than the covered bridge did during its time. The road that had connected to both sides of the Miller Bridge has been reclaimed by the trees and natural growth. This gives the impression that the road was almost certainly a dirt road that could readily disappear with little trace. The two-lane highway forty-nine that is now connected to the modern bridge would take many years to erode without human intervention before it was unable to be seen. Looking at the place of where the Miller Bridge once stood, and the modern bridge is still in use illustrates a change in the area. The jarring noise of cars passing over the bridge as you stand where the Miller Bridge stood to serve as a reminder of the change in the type of vehicles that used these roads. It illustrates the changes in the number of people that used this road. With the creation of Horseshoe Bend National Military Park, it would have been impossible for the heavy machinery required to construct the park to cross the covered bridge.

While they could have traveled a different way, and come into the park from the north, the number of visitors would surely have, but too much stress on the already aging Miller Bridge. Today it is nearly impossible to visit the bridge and not be interrupted by the noise of logging trucks cross the Tallapoosa River. These increase in industry and tourist traffic of the national park leave visitors with a feeling of a much more modern urban area than the rural landscape that Miller Bridge impresses through photos.

Public Archives on Public Lands: The Responsibility of Access

The infographic above is from the Department of Interior and details the incredible number of items that the department currently has in its various collections. While the Department oversees multiple federal agencies, the largest collection of items by a single agency is by far the National Park Service. On the front page of the National Park Service’s Museum Management Program, they boast, “The National Park Service is one of the world’s largest museum systems. There are 380 parks with collections that include over 45 million natural, historic, and prehistoric objects and 75,000 linear feet of archives. These collections tell powerful stories of the nation, its diverse cultures, flora and fauna, and significant events and innovative ideas that continue to inspire the world.”[1]

The archival work that both the National Park Service and the Department of the Interior are able to achieve is astounding and significant in the preservation of artifacts from all over of the United States. Yet when it comes to access, not all archives are created equal. While the National Park Service has utilized digital resources to offer online exhibits, digital catalogs, and educational resources for a select number of sites and artifacts, there is a larger number of archives that do not offer these digital means of access. This is where individual parks are challenged with the task of enhancing the means of access to their archives. The NPS Museum Handbook addresses the question of the “museum management responsibilities of the park” and includes “Promote access to cataloged collections for research and interpretive purposes through a variety of means, such as exhibits, interpretive programs, loans, publications, Web exhibits, and the Web Catalog.”

One park archive to consider how they may meet the responsibility of promoting access to the public is the archives at Horseshoe Bend National Military Park. One of the most basic ways to promote access of an archive is through addressing the public’s awareness, knowledge, and interest of simply what the archives are. While the National Park Service as a whole had the means to create a dynamic website that was aimed at highlighting promote specific artifacts, individual parks are often constricted to a smaller budget, staff, and resources. Individual parks still have access to social media. Rangers at Horseshoe Bend NMP could create social media post focused on the tasks that rangers do when they are in the role of curators and archivist. Similar to post focused on rangers work in the field, these post would help to promote public interest in the archives and even to educate some that may not know of what an archive is or that the park even maintains a collection of artifacts beyond the museum.  Social media post could also focus on highlighting an artifact of the month in a reoccurring post that offers some images of an artifact, summary of the history of the artifacts, and what it takes to preserve that specific artifact.

Beyond utilizing social media to promote the education and awareness of the park’s archives, the park could also plan an on-site public program. A public program could mean offering a talk by the NPS Southeastern Regional archivist, or a park ranger in charge of the curatorial. Offering some insight into how the NPS approaches archives, how they preserve artifacts, catalog, accept donations, and how the park uses these artifacts. Not only would this allow for additional access to the archives, but it would offer education of what the archives are to the general public. Programs could also be less formal with ranger’s giving guided tours of the museum and providing visitors with insights into specific artifacts, similar artifacts in curation, how artifacts are selected for exhibits, and what it takes for the parks to preserve these artifacts.

[1] https://www.nps.gov/orgs/1454/index.htm

Visiting the Tallapoosee Historical Museum

The Tallapoosee History Museum located in downtown Dadeville, Alabama. It is staffed and managed by volunteers from the Tallapoosee Historical Society of Tallapoosa County. Walking into the museum on a Wednesday or Saturday, the only days they are open, you are not instantly greeted by a staff member at the front desk as is common in most traditional museums. The layout of the museum does not include a front desk at all. The museum consists of the two large open rooms, the Bank of Dadeville donated the main room. In the back of the room, there is an opening that flows into a second large spacious room that the museum purchased and installed additional exhibits. Both rooms are filled with items of all sizes, age, and historical meaning. The museum features items such as an old wooden and castiron school desk, an iron wood-burning cook stove, a chair from a local barbershop, uniforms from the Civil War through the Vietnam War, and a large wooden delivery wagon that was used by Duncan and Sons Furniture.

The artifacts are arranged into loosely constructed exhibits of related artifacts with free-standing wooden latticework that serve to divide individual exhibits and the utilitarian purpose of creating additional display space.The interpretation and exhibit labels are minimal throughout the museum. Often simply telling what the artifact is, the year it originated in, and the name of the donor or original owner. The focus of the museum is entirely on the local, by locals and primarily for locals. The museum does not attempt to weave exhibits together into an interpretive narrative that connects to national significance, as National Park museums do. Instead, exhibits focus on old towns, historical structures, important individuals, and local schools from the county, some of which no longer exist. The artifacts have mostly been acquired through donations of items that span a wide range of time periods, subject matter, and arguably historical value.

In a local museum that is run by and funded by volunteers and donations, there are many differences from a traditional formal museum that is supported by an institution or government agency. The goal of the museum is not to interpret a particular event or person, or to emotional connect visitors with a site. The goal of the museum is to “preserve the history of Tallapoosa County for the current and future generations.” While professional curators and museum designers could criticize the museum, it achieves its purpose by sharing the stories, memories, and pieces of the history of Tallapoosa County. It is an excellent example of what public history looks like when it is done by the public for the public.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Responsibility of a Conversation

Every person has memories and stories from their lives. Sometimes it can be difficult to get people to share their stories and memories in a formal interview while being recorded and signing a release form. Beyond the level of comfort that is required for most people to open up and share pieces of their past, is the trust that must be created between the two individuals to have a successful interview. Medical and psychological researchers have developed codes of ethic when it comes to working with individuals. Guidelines and standards have even been published by the Oral History Association “to uphold certain principles, professional and technical standards, and obligations.”

In visiting the senior center at the Auburn Housing Authority recently, the implications of what it means to be responsible to an interviewee was made clearer to me by gaining first-hand experience in conducting oral history interviews with several residents. A certain amount of trust and familiarity had to be built before many residents would begin speaking in a less reserved way. But just the same as any conversation with a stranger, even if the audio records and signed forms had not been present, the interviewee started to move beyond simply answering questions and started to share more in the conversation as I began to respond and actively listen to what they had to say. Laughing at their stories and asking more questions when they began to share something that was of interest to me. Sharing in the conversation in this way familiarity, comfort, and trust began to develop more and more.

Although these men I helped interview did not know what exactly would become of the recordings of the interview that contained personal memories and moments from their lives, they trusted what we had told them. Legal and ethical responsibility are often required and simply to meet, there is still a moral responsibility that researchers and interviewers have to the interviewee. To the person that has placed a certain amount of trust in them to use their memories and shared experiences in a way that will benefit others and not harm the individual. Where that responsibility ends and begins is difficult to say without looking at each and every situation, but the interviewer unquestionably has certain obligations to the individual, the project, and the profession.

Ask a Public Historian: Eric Frey

Eric Frey is currently a Park Ranger at Horseshoe Bend National Park. He has formerly worked as a Park Guide at Mammoth Cave National Park, Biological Technician at Cape Hatteras National Seashore, and most recently worked at the Southeastern Regional National Park Office focused on partnerships and promotion of the Centennial of the National Park Service. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Biology and a Master’s in Biology from Boise State University.

 

Why did you choose to enter your field?

I somewhat chose my path and my path chose me. I’ve always had a fascination with the National Park Service, which might have stemmed from a trip to Gettysburg NMP at the age of seven or eight. I always enjoyed the outdoors and camping yet also found myself fascinated with American history, especially the Civil War. My interests were quite varied and I think that fits in well with the National Park Service and its many roles. We preserve this country’s history as well as its invaluable natural treasures and landscapes. We strive to keep these things unimpaired for future generations yet we invite the public to use them quite freely and for a variety of different ends. It’s these aspects of the job that satisfy the biologist as well as the historian.

 

What was your favorite project?

I became really interested in the historic signatures that could be found on the cave walls at Mammoth Cave NP. After a little research, I realized that a handful of civil war soldiers carved or smoked their names on the rocks. I soon found myself on my weekends inside the cave scouring the walls for more signatures or down at the archives going through the cave hotel records searching for more soldiers that had visited the cave during the war. My finished product was a database complete with all of the soldier signatures from the hotel registers and a database with photos of all the signatures that I documented in the cave. I still continue to occasionally look online for soldier letters that mention their trip to the Cave.

 

 If someone wants to be “you” what advice would you have?

Volunteer. Volunteering in the NPS is a great way to gain skills and experience for your resume as well as show your work ethic and what you have to add to a park. It also exposes you to working for a federal agency, allowing you to consider if it is a right fit for you and your career goals. It also helps if you are flexible; being able to work in settings or roles that are not your 100% dream position but making them into a positive for your development.

 

Any good resume tips specific for the field?

Be familiar with the differences between a “private” resume and a federal resume. They are completely different and if you submit a resume following “normal private” standards, you have little chance of being chosen for a federal job. There is certain required information that needs to be included in your resume so be familiar with these requirements. Look at your federal resume as your first interview.

 

Interpreting Empty Pedestals

In 1975, the city of Demopolis’s public square was added to the National Register of Historic Places under the common name of Confederate Park. Across from the city park in the middle of the intersection on a granite pedestal stood a marble statue of a Confederate soldier. The monument was erected in October of 1910 by the Marengo Rifles Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

The monument was not taken down to because of public pressure or from a judicial ruling requiring the city to remove the statue; it was taken down in much simpler and quicker way. In July of 2016, a local on duty police officer fell asleep at the wheel of his patrol car and hit the granite pedestal sending the marble soldier to the ground.

What qualifies the Confederate statue in Demopolis as a case study, in answering what should be done with Confederate monuments after their removal, is not the political conversation or public spotlight in which the monument was removed. It is the way in which the city of Demopolis handled the decision of what to do with the monument after the accident. Should the monument be rebuilt and the soldier raised back to loom over the city center or should the circumstances be used as an opportunity to alter the city’s shared public space.

Because of current political actions on the state and national levels, the original statue nor the replacement monument (that was approved by the city council) have been resurrected. The pedestal now sits empty. Demopolis’s example gives a warning of what must be done with the monuments, they must be interpreted. They must be confronted and conversed over. The public should be introduced to the history of the monument: who constructed the monument, why did they decide on that particular image, why that location, what did other members of the city think of the statue.

 

An article on the monument from the Washington Post can be found here. 

Less Visible Than Gunfire

Reaction to Trouillot’s Silencing the Past:

In reading Trouillot’s preface and second chapter of his book Silencing the Past I was confronted with questions. Questions of my own and questions that Trouillot himself often posses at the end of a topic.

  •  Brash analysis, “talking about dead Indians” p 9
  • The man who survived the Alamo, focus on the historical event and not with the origin of historical memory. Yet is concerned with the modern efforts to face these memories as with Davy.
  • Exclusion of one’s history that not have memory of.