Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Mahned Bridge

Constructed in 1903, the Mahned Bridge is Perry County is a one-lane truss bridge. One of the first bridges built across the Leaf River, the bridge connected several rural farming communities with the town of New Augusta and beyond to Hattiesburg. The bridge has an interesting history and its remote location has made the site a local favorite in years. In modern times, though, Mahned Bridge has earned a much more sinister reputation.

The small community of Mahned was named for a Mississippi Confederate veteran, Joseph Wyatt Denham, born in 1849. In May 1862, Denham enlisted in Co. F (known as the "Renovators") of the 7th Mississippi Infantry Battalion. A little over a year later, he and the rest of the regiment was engaged in the siege of Vicksburg as part of Hebert's brigade and was originally posted near Stockade Redan. After surrendering with the rest of Pemberton's Army, the 7th Mississippi Battalion served throughout the Atlanta Campaign and fought its last battle at Spanish Fort, Alabama, in April 1865. After the war, Captain Denham settled near the Leaf River to farm. Although the community which sprang up there might well have been named Denham, there was already a place by that name in Wayne County, so it was called Mahned instead, which is 'Denham' spelled backwards. Joseph Wyatt Denham died on May 20, 1923. He is buried in a family cemetery.

The Mahned Bridge was built by the Chicago Bridge & Iron Company, which was founded in 1889. CB&I built hundreds -- perhaps thousands -- of bridges, water tanks and standpipes across the country during the late 19th and early 20th century. In addition to bridges and tanks, CB&I was involved in early oil exploration overseas and during World War II, because of the company’s expertise in welding, was selected to build Landing Ship Tanks (LSTs), used to carry troops and supplies throughout the war in both the European and the Pacific Theaters. The company, which is still in operation, was also known for its spherical natural gas storage tanks. Although long ago replaced by gas pipelines, the round storage tanks were at one time the best option for storing natural gas and were an iconic piece of the industrial landscape. One of these gas spheres was located in East Hampton, New York. Known locally as the “Big Blue Ball,” the sphere was built by CB&I for Fester Blount, a millionaire who owned the East Coast Coal and Combustible Gas Corporation. Blount wasn't just a businessman, however. He also had an interest in art and was a major benefactor of abstract artist Jackson Pollack, who lived in the area. In December 1951, Blount slipped on some ice while carrying a propane tank to his garage and it exploded. He died soon thereafter. Pollack was among those at his deathbed and Blount whispered to Pollack that he wanted him to make the gas sphere “your greatest work” of art. The abstract work (above) he produced could be seen for miles around. While art critics raved over it, most locals apparently hated it. In 1956, Pollack was killed in an auto accident while driving drunk. Killed with Pollack was a young lady who was not his wife. Within a week of Pollack’s death, his spherical artwork had been completely painted over, presumably by someone who had little appreciation for either his art or his lifestyle. Over the years, layer after layer of blue paint was applied to the ball and it has since been demolished, much to the chagrin of art historians. The potential value of the gigantic ball of art would perhaps have been in the millions.

CB&I ultimately built approximately 3,500 gas spheres around the world and called them “Hortonspheres” for one of the company’s founders, Horace Ebenezer Horton. Born in 1843 in Norway, New York, Horton had no formal training as an engineer. Instead, he attended school at the Fairfield Seminary in Fairfield, New York, where Professor James M. Hall taught a variety of subjects, including art, science, geology and physics. According to another student at Fairfield, Professor Hall had few amenities but was nonetheless a gifted teacher. Despite his home-made instruments, “he extended our imaginations into the realm of the mystical to make up for the lack of material symbols. Open-mouthed and wide-eyed we country swains and lassies sat in the old laboratory and listened to stories of the celestial bodies, or the atoms and molecules of mother earth, or the laws which govern the universe.” Apparently Professor Hall’s methodology worked for Horace Horton (left). Graduating about 1864, Horton moved with his family to Minnesota, where he quickly displayed his talent in bridge building. By 1866, at age 23, he constructed his first bridge, a 186-ft. wooden span at Oronoco, Minnesota. The next year, he was named the town surveyor in Rochester, a post he held for a decade. In the meantime, he continued to build bridges and began to develop the use of iron. He also started working with various types of storage tanks. In 1889, he moved to Chicago and formed the Chicago Bridge & Iron Company. Horton’s success with the company ultimately extended across the nation and the world. In Mississippi alone, CB&I built more than thirty water tanks and standpipes for towns and companies, including water tanks in Raymond (built in 1905) and Mendenhall. Horton died at his home in Chicago on July 29, 1912. In a professional engineering journal, Horton was mourned as “an engineer of fine intellect, sound accomplishment, and pleasing personality.” A pioneer in the use of iron and steel in construction, Horton is buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Rochester, Minnesota. The house where he died still stands. Designed by architect John T. Long, the Horton House was based on the H.A.C. Taylor House in Newport, Rhode Island, among the first Colonial Revival style houses. The Horton House was recently listed for sale with a price tag in excess of $1,000,000. *

The Mayned Bridge in Perry County is one of the few surviving examples of Horace Horton’s work in Mississippi. Based on its engineering significance, the bridge was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1997. Unfortunately, Mahned Bridge has taken on a new and darker association than its historic significance. In 1993, seventeen-year-old Angela Lee Freeman of Petal, Mississippi, disappeared. Her 1984 Honda Accord was found abandoned at Mahned Bridge. Tests indicated that blood found on the car belonged to Angela and her shoes were located nearby. Then, two years later, Robbie Bond and William Hatcher, both from Hattiesburg, went missing. After Hatcher’s truck was located at Mahned Bridge, authorities searched the area and found three bodies buried in shallow graves behind a trailer owned by Kenneth Moody. The third body was later identified as Michael James Lee of Mobile, who had also been reported missing. Authorities charged Moody with two counts of capital murder and he was convicted and sentenced to two life terms without parole. Because of the circumstances surrounding the deaths, the planks of the bridge have since been removed. The disappearance of Angela Lee Freeman (above) remains unsolved.  

* Ironically, Horton had a Mississippi towboat named for him. In 1943, the Horace E. Horton collided with an LST (built by CB&I, the company he founded) in the Mississippi River below Cairo, Illinois. In a court ruling, both the LST and the towboat were found to be at fault in the collision. 

(1) Bridge: http://www.flickr.com
(2) 7th Mississippi Battalion: http://www.nps.gov/vick
(3) CB&I: http://en.wikipedia.org
(4) Pollack: http://danspapers.com
(5) Horton: http://www.historicbridges.org
(6) Mendenhall tank: https://archive.org
(7) Freeman: http://www.charleyproject.org

1 comment:

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