The bridge on Highway 119 South through Guyton over the Ogeechee River was a rickety, wooden structure as pictured in 1928.
It was replaced by a much improved steel bridge structure with heavy timbers that you drove upon (see photo). Although it still had a distinct sound bumping over the bridge, it was much safer.
The river area by the bridge became a popular recreational place for Guyton and others throughout the county. The boat landing was on the Bulloch County side of the bridge and a store building, with a big wooden dance floor, built on pilings sat backed up to the bridge on the Guyton side. There was room underneath the building for boat and canoe storage. You could park and go into the store building on the upper level on the Guyton side. There were steep steps going up to the upper level store and dance hall on the river side. The store operated there sold bread, milk, cold drinks, snacks and sandwich fixings.
Nearby there was a row of small cabins. Hunter Elkins lived there all the time and operated the store. Later on some remember that Earl Bazemore Sr. ran the store during the 1940s. Families including the Futrelles, Carpenters and Ramseys had cabins for their families to use on weekends and evenings. Sometimes they let others stay in the cabins which were built elevated on pilings needed when the river flooded, at times only accessible by boat.
Over the years the current modern concrete bridge replaced the steel structure on a paved highway. Everyone still continues to call it the “Steel Bridge” even though the old steel structure no longer exists.
In earlier days there was an elevated wooden pavilion shown in the adjacent photographs along the riverside away from the road beyond the store and dance hall. It had a bench around the perimeter and picnic tables with benches. The storekeeper kept the calendar for the use of the pavilion. School groups, Sunday schools and families often had picnics and reunions there. An accompanying photo shows an Effingham Academy group at the pavilion. It was mostly a family atmosphere during the daytime. By the 1950s the late evening activities were popular with the young people and the recreational area had taken on a less than reputable aura known for drinking. The location was not popular with parents and many teenagers were not allowed to attend the rowdy gatherings at Steel Bridge. Nonetheless, many would sneak over to the bridge with the forbidden lure of dancing and fun.
Maudeane Clifton remembers her father, Milton Arden, taking her and her brother Joe Arden as children to the bridge to swim after he got home from work on hot summer afternoons. It was a popular place with a sandy beach like area beside the channel. The river looked nothing like it does today. It had wide deep channels with clean dark water and not so many island sand bars as today. Lots of people fished up and down the river on foot and by small boat. Many used the bridge itself for a diving board. The channel at that time was deep enough to allow this while parents cringed with worry when their teenagers were so daring.
Permanent residents living on the river along with many day trippers love to fish, boat and swim in what had been one of the most pristine undeveloped rivers in our country. It has always been ideal for canoeing, kayaking or small fishing boats with the river’s slow currents and snaking turns through the forest canopy and swamp.
Today the Ogeechee is still a popular swimming area but has been spoiled by the recent fish kill upriver that has made safe recreational activities in the murky water questionable. The people who love the river have banded together and are going to bat against corporate and governmental agencies and officials to renew the conditions on the river to its former glory. They want to again see restored water quality and a safe wildlife habitat for recreational activities utilized by so many for so long in Effingham County.
Citizens want their children to have the opportunity to make memories at Steel Bridge as have our previous generations.
Historic Effingham thanks Barbara Scott, Nita Edwards and Maudeane Clifton for information and the photos provided.
This was written by Susan Exley of Historic Effingham Society. If you have photos, comments or information to share, contact Susan Exley at 754-6681 or email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.