Marsh’s Ferry, the Lopahaw Bridge and Tyson Ferry

One of the early roads in Berrien County described by William Green Avera was, “the road from Milltown northward to Tyson Ferry on the Alapaha River just east of the present site of Alapaha. This road pass[ed] by the residence of the late John Studstill, first sheriff of Berrien County, later the home of Joe Studstill, his son; Stony Hill, the old residence of the late Moses C. Lee; Keefe and Bullocks Turpentine still; the residence of the late J. H. Rowan [and] the residence of his widow, Mrs. Phoebe Rowan; the residence of the late William Gaskins — the grandfather of the late Alvah W. Gaskins of Nashville, GA.”    At  Tyson Ferry,  the Milltown road intersected the Coffee Road.

Alapaha River was crossed by the Coffee Road at this site.

Monday, June 19, 2017, Julian Fields led a field trip to the site where the ferry on the old Coffee Road crossed the Alapaha River. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f7_-0AzgKgw

It was the 1823 opening of the Coffee Road that led to the creation of Lowndes County, which then covered a vast area of Wiregrass Georgia including present day Berrien County, GA.   When  John Coffee first cut his road through the wilderness, there were no ferries or bridges over the creeks and rivers.  Early travelers forded water crossings as best they could. The WWALS Watershed Coalition documents a number of waypoints, creek and river crossings on the route of the old Coffee Road.  The route of the Coffee entering present day Berrien County from the north first crossed the Willacoochee River, then traversed the Alapaha river  at Cunningham’s Ford. With seasonally high water, these rivers were no doubt difficult if not impossible to cross. 

Within a few years ferries were established over the Willacoochee and the Alapaha for the convenience of Coffee Road travelers.

According to Huxford’s “Pioneers of Wiregrass Georgia” Vol. 2, Reuben Marsh moved to Irwin County about 1828 and settled in the 5th district on land Lot 381 which straddles the Willacoochee River.  There he established a farm and ferry apparently to serve travelers on the Coffee Road. 

Enhanced detail of Irwin County survey plat District 5 showing location of land lot 381 on Willacoochee Creek. Reuben Marsh established a ferry over the Willacoochee in 1828.

Enhanced detail of Irwin County survey plat District 5 showing location of land lot 381 on Willacoochee Creek. Reuben Marsh established a ferry over the Willacoochee in 1828.

Marsh, an early settler of Irwin County,  was one of the Commissioners appointed by the legislature to fix the location of the county seat, Irwinville.

It appears that sometime prior to 1836, Reuben Marsh acquired land Lot 424.

At January term, 1836 [Irwin County Inferior Court], Daniel Luke, Hezekiah Walker and Mathew Merritt, appointed commissioners on road leading from courthouse to Widow Mobley’s and intersect there with Coffee Road, also Frederick Merritt, Andrew McCelland and Micajah Paulk, appointed commissioners on Coffee road leading from Thomas L. Swain’s ferry to Ruebin Marsh’s ferry on Alapaha.

 

At January adjourned term, 1836, commissioners were authorized to turn the road leading from [Irwin County] courthouse to Ruebin Marsh’s ferry on Alapaha to near John Benefield’s on to Elisha Grantham’s ferry and strike Coffee Road nearest and best way.

THE LOPAHAW BRIDGE

In 1836 the Georgia Assembly provided partial funding for the construction of a public bridge over the Alapaha River. Later records of the Inferior Court of Irwin County indicate  Tyson Ferry was put into service to replace this bridge .

1836 Georgia Act to construct a bridge across the Lopahaw River

1836 Georgia Act to construct a bridge across the Lopahaw River

 

       AN ACT, To appropriate the sum of eight hundred dollars, to build a Bridge across the Lopahaw.
      Whereas, it is all important that a Bridge should be built across the Lopahaw, at or near Coffee’s Road, and whereas, the citizens are unable to build the said Bridge, and whereas, a subscription is on foot to raise or contribute eight hundred dollars which is thought will be about one half of the amount necessary and requisite to build and erect a substantial Bridge, for remedy whereof:
       Sec. 1. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the State of Georgia in General Assembly met, and it is enacted by the authority of the same, That Jacob Polk of the county of Irwin, Daniel Grantham, Sen’r. John McMillon, be and they are hereby authorized to draw and appropriate the sum of eight hundred dollars, for the purpose of building a Bridge over and across the Lopahaw, at or near where the Coffee Road crosses the said river, and for the repair of Coffee’s Road.
       Sec. 2. Be it enacted by the authority of the same, That the said Commissioners shall give bond and sufficient security for the faithful discharge of their duty, and properly to expend the aforesaid sum for the erection of said Bridge.
        Sec. 3. And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That His Excellency the Governor, be, and he is hereby authorized and required, on the receipt of said bond as before required, to pay the amount of eight hundred dollars to the said Commissioners aforesaid, out of any money in the treasury not otherwise appropriated.

JOSEPH DAY,
Speaker of the House of Representatives.
ROBERT M. ECHOLS,

President of the Senate.
Assented to, Dec. 26, 1836.
WILLIAM SCHLEY, Governor.

It appears that the Lopahaw bridge was not constructed on the direct path of Coffee Road over the Alapaha, for at the February 1838 term of the Inferior Court of Irwin County marking commissioners were appointed to lay out a route which bypassed the ford and proceeded over the public bridge, rejoining Coffee road after the crossing.

At February term, 1838, Jacob A. Bradford, John Harper and Leonard Jackson, appointed commissioners to lay out and mark road, leaving Coffee road near Cornelius Tyson’s to public bridge on Alapaha, thence to intersect Coffee road
at or near Micajah Paulk’s, Sr. 

The  Irwin County Tax records of 1831 and 1832 show Cornelius Tyson’s Irwin County property included Lots 422 and 424 in the 5th Land District of Irwin County. 

1831-1832-Cornelius-Tison-tax-records-Irwin-County-GA

1831 – 1832 Irwin County, GA property tax records of Cornelius Tyson

 

 

When the  Inferior Court of Irwin County next met road commissioners were appointed for Coffee Road, to include the new routing over the public bridge.

At July term, 1838, Leonard G. Jackson, Shaderick Griffin and Andrew McClelland, appointed commissioners on road, commencing at C. Tyson’s to public bridge on Alapaha, then to intersect Coffee road near Micajah Paulk’s, they to commence at county line and ending at district line.

There is reason to question just how long this bridge remained in service, for in 1841, Georgia experienced a severe, wide-spread flood known as the Harrison Freshet:

In the early part of March, 1841, after President Harrison’s inauguration, the big fresh occurred west of the Oconee, and the Ocmulgee, Flint and Chattahoochee rivers, and all other smaller streams, contained more water and produced greater damage than ever known. In this section the last inundation was also called the Harrison freshet; hence the confusion that arose many years afterwards in distinguishing which was the proper Harrison fresh. The discrimination was, however, distinctly recorded at the time of the occurrences. The fresh of May and June, 1840, while the convention was held at Milledgeville, was named by the Democrats, “The Nomination Freshet,” and the fresh of March, 1841, was also named by the same “unterrified” authority “The Harrison Inauguration Freshet.” An iron spike was driven into the western abutment of the [Macon] city bridge by Mr. Albert G. Butts, denoting the highest water ever in the river down to that time, March, 1841. The spike still remains, and is inspected at every freshet in the Ocmulgee. – Historical Record of Macon and Central Georgia

The flood of the 1841 Harrison Freshet is known to have washed away bridges on the Alapaha River.   “Few bridges on the common streams … stood the shock.” The Milledgeville Federal Union declared it a 100 year flood.  The “extraordinary flood…caused awful damage in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina” with major erosion, land slides, “roads rendered almost impassable, and plantations disfigured with enormous gullies.”  At Troupville, GA, then the county seat of Lowndes County, the town was inundated, the flood setting a high water mark on the old cypress tree there which set a record , according to the March 28, 1897 New Orleans Times-Democrat, which was not surpassed for 56 years.

Whether or not the Lopahaw Bridge weathered the 1841 storm is not known, but  James Bagley Clements’ History of Irwin County states,

        “At the January term, 1842, an order was passed by the Inferior Court [Irwin County] an order was passed establishing a ferry across the Alapaha River at a place known as Marshes Ferry. The rates were fixed as follows: man and horse, twelve and one-half cents; man, horse and cart, twenty-five cents; two-horse wagon, fifty cents; four-horse wagon, one dollar; pleasure carriages, one dollar; gigs, fifty cents; jersey wagons, thirty-seven and one-half cents; mules and horses, 3 cents per head; cattle, 3 cents per head, sheep and hogs, one and one-half cents per head; foot  persons, free. Rates to be advertised at ferry.
At same term of court a ferry was established across the Willacoochee where Coffee Road crosses said creek and the above rates shall govern said ferry.

 

Clement’s History of Irwin County relates that “the public bridge” over the Alapaha was condemned at the January 1856 term of the Irwin County Inferior Court.

TYSON FERRY

At the same 1856 term of court according to James Bagley Clements’ History of Irwin County“Cornelious Tyson was granted authority to erect a ferry on Alapaha River on the Coffee road at the location of the condemned bridge and he is allowed to charge the following rates: man and horse, six and one-fourth cents; horse and cart, twenty-five cents; four-horse wagon, fifty cents; horse and buggy, thirty-seven and one-half cents.” 

Cornelius Tyson was one of the five marking commissioners appointed by the state legislature in 1856 to fix the boundary lines of the newly created Berrien County.  Cornelius Tyson is enumerated in Berrien County, GA as Cornelius Tison in the Census 1860.

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4 Comments

  1. Bill Outlaw said,

    September 1, 2017 at 4:14 pm

    Your posts always touch me. Reuben Marsh was my 4th greatgrandfather.

  2. Nancy Wood Merriman said,

    September 3, 2017 at 11:19 am

    Thank you for your excellent research and writing. My GGGGrandfather, Thomas Futch, also ran a ferry. His was on Coffee Road where it crossed the Withlacoochee River.

    • September 9, 2017 at 5:17 pm

      Nancy, thank you for reading the Ray City History Blog and for sharing your family history.

  3. Bryan Shaw said,

    July 3, 2019 at 1:41 pm

    The attached documents that Jon Sizemore has noted, creates more confusion, but possibly more clarity on the actual route of the original Coffee Road. Consider the following:

    1) According to Huxford’s “Pioneers of Wiregrass Georgia” Vol. 2, Reuben Marsh moved to land lot 381 in the 5th district of then Irwin County about 1828, and there established a farm ands ferry, known as Marsh’s Ferry. Land lot 381 does not cross the Alapaha River, but actually falls exactly across the Willacoochee River, five miles upstream from its convergence with the Alapaha River. It crosses the Willacoochee River at Luke Bridge (much later construction), one of the wooden “Historic Bridges of Georgia”. Huxford may have been mistaken that Marsh’s Ferry crossed the Alapaha River, but actually crossed the Willacoochee River. This ferry would have given access to land north and east of the Alapaha River before it converged with the Willacoochee.

    2) According to Julian Fields, a noted researcher on the Tyson Ferry Crossing, the Coffee Road crossed the Alapaha River at land lot 470 of the 5th District, just upstream from where Rowe Town Road meets Moore Sawmill Road southeast of Alapaha. It crossed the river to the east side at a point called “Marsh Landing” due to the marshy bottom. Then the road continued northeasterly up through the Glory community, across Highway 82 then meets up with the St. Luke Church Road before crossing over the Luke Bridge at land lot 381 into Coffee County.

    3) Micajah Paulk’ property was on the east bank of the Willacoochee River on land lots 289, 290, and 310 of the 5th district in Coffee County, where the Union Primitive Baptist Church is located, five miles north of Luke Bridge. That means the Coffee Road coming out of Nashville, crossed the Lopahaw Bridge (later Tyson Ferry) at Alapaha River and then up five miles to the Marsh’s Ferry at Willacoochee River before continuing northward another five miles to join the original Coffee Road at Micajah Paulk Place.

    4) That would suggest that the original Coffee Road must have run east of the Willacoochee River and crossed the Alapaha River down stream from the later Tyson Ferry crossing at Marsh Landing. And the more westerly route and the upstream crossing of the Coffee Road came after the creation of the Lopahaw Bridge.

    That is how I interpret the documents noted.


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