Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

In the Withlacoochee near Istachatta, stories of a bridge

Old bridge piers jutting out from the Withlacoochee River near Istachatta were standing in January 2012, when this photo of kayaker Carole Barice was taken. But some time in the past few weeks, her husband, Charles Lee, noticed that the piers had fallen into the channel.

Photo by Charles Lee

Old bridge piers jutting out from the Withlacoochee River near Istachatta were standing in January 2012, when this photo of kayaker Carole Barice was taken. But some time in the past few weeks, her husband, Charles Lee, noticed that the piers had fallen into the channel.

Sad as it is to see the remains of the old piers — barely jutting above the surface of the slow-flowing Withlacoochee River near Istachatta — they do have the benefit of revealing secrets about old-time bridge construction.

Workers apparently drove steel tubes into the riverbed, along with — right down the middle of these tubes — sturdy, reinforcing timbers. The tubes were then filled with a mixture of concrete and fist-sized rocks, forming pillars about 2 feet in diameter and nearly 20 feet high.

The piers were still standing as recently as three weeks ago, said Charles Lee, Florida Audubon's director of advocacy, who lives near the river.

But when he paddled by them on Jan. 27, he said, they had collapsed into the river.

"A part of history now gone," Lee wrote in an email to me last week.

True enough, though it's probably a little different than the history Lee heard from neighbors and passed on to me in his email and when he met me on the river Saturday — that the bridge was built by slaves during the Civil War, originally for rail, and was later converted for use by cars.

Melba Ward, 66, is an Istachatta resident who grew up in the Peters family, one of the first to settle in the tiny community in the northeast corner of Hernando County. In 2007, she wrote an extensive report about it, Istachatta: History of the First 100 Years, 1850-1950, published by the Hernando Historical Museum Association.

Ward was not able to find a record of when the bridge was completed. She did discover when the County Commission approved a $2,200 contract to build the bridge — in 1908.

She agrees with Lee on another point. It was the only bridge in the area available for car traffic until the steel and concrete bridge for what is now County Road 476 was finished in the early 1940s.

There was no record of a rail bridge before that — only of several ferries, including one that began operating near present-day Nobleton in 1859.

Those ferries were basically small barges with decks attached to ropes strung across the river. Horns made of conch shells were hung at the landings on either side so customers could summon the ferry.

As to another part of Lee's email — "The bridge had an infamous history involving lynchings" — there could definitely be something to that.

In 1926, Brooksville's Southern Argus newspaper reported that a black man named Charles Davis, accused of killing a white Pasco County deputy in eastern Hernando County, had been seized by an armed mob near the river as he was being led back to Brooksville from Ocala.

"I believe Davis was taken and thrown into the Withlacoochee River," Sheriff W.D. Cobb told the paper. "Maybe in a day or two the body will come to the surface."

The apparent lack of concern in Cobb's comment isn't surprising once you know, as some historians believe, that he was complicit in this killing and several other acts of racial violence in the 1920s.

That's not in Ward's book. But here are some things that are.

Istachatta appears on early maps as Magnolia or Magnolia Bluff. The current name didn't show up until 1884, when F.M. Townsend filed a plat map with the county.

Nearby Townsen Lake and Lake Townsen Regional Park were named after him, Ward said, which means both have been misspelled on maps and in county documents for years; she thinks somebody in the county mistakenly dropped the final "d" and the result took on a life of its own.

But even Townsend didn't really found the town, which didn't take its current shape until a developer mapped a grid of streets during the 1920s land boom.

Of course, you don't need to know about this history of the bridge or the town — if, with a population of 116, it can even be called a town.

But maybe hearing about the bridge will encourage you to get in a canoe or kayak and take a trip along the river to see what's left of the piers.

It's a good trip, even when you don't know the history. Just a little more so when you do.

In the Withlacoochee near Istachatta, stories of a bridge 02/05/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 5, 2013 8:13pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Lockdown: Florida's 97,000 prison inmates confined through weekend

    State Roundup

    All of Florida's 97,000 state prison inmates are on lockdown — and will remain confined to their dorms at least through the weekend — in response to unspecified threats about possible uprisings, officials from the Florida Department of Corrections confirmed Thursday.

    Blackwater River Correctional Facility. [Florida Department of Corrections]
  2. Rays Kevin Cash: "We've got to turn it around. ... Time is of the essence"


    The question to manager Kevin Cash was about a rematch with the Mariners this weekend at the Trop, but he made clear this afternoon that with his Rays losing nine of their last 12 that they have to treat every game as essential.

    "We've got to turn it around,'' Cash said. "You can only delay it for so long and …

  3. Should kindergartners be encouraged to conform to peer pressure? One Pasco school suggests so


    A Pasco County elementary school came under fire on social media Thursday for its new behavior expectation charts that suggest conforming to peer pressure is positive, and that running in school is anarchy.

    Deer Park Elementary School has posted this chart of student expectations. Some parents have complained about its terms, such as the suggestion that conforming to peer pressure is positive.
  4. Carnival announces five more cruises from Tampa to Cuba


    TAMPA — Carnival Cruise Line is adding five more cruises from Tampa to Cuba in 2018, Port Tampa Bay announced Thursday.

      Carnival Cruise Line announced additional cruises to  Cuba. Pictured is its Paradise cruise ship departing on its inaugural voyage to Cuba from Tampa. | [MONICA HERNDON | Times]
  5. Lightning wing J.T. Brown on why he donated to remove Confederate statue


    Lightning wing J.T. Brown was back in his Minneapolis offseason home over the weekend when he saw on TV the violent protests in Charlottesville over the removal of a Confederate statue.

    J.T. Brown decided to get involved, donating $1,500 to assist in removing a Confederate statue in Tampa.