The Vagabond – Local railroad bridge leaned like Tower of Pisa


By Danny Crownover

Gadsden businessman W.U. Paschal literally landed here by ferryboat in 1888 when he was a boy. He was startled to see the big and round pier of the L&N railroad bridge across Coosa River leaning at a severe angle downstream. He noted that a number of men were at work trying to jack up the bridge’s middle section steel and draw the span back into its original position.
About a year after the bridge was completed, the pier suddenly careened so that the upper part of the steel structure rested where the lower half was joined to the other two spans. It happened at night, and the next morning a large crowd had gathered.
At that time, L&N railroad bridge was used for vehicular traffic between Gadsden and East Gadsden. Of course, that traffic ceased when trains were also forced to discontinue trips.
The L&N hastily built and began operating a ferryboat, a service that had been abandoned as soon as the bridge was first completed.
Bridge crews were brought to Gadsden to drive piles in the river that were to jack up the span so that it would support trains. Deep sea divers were sent down to ascertain the trouble, and they discovered that the upper side of the stone pier had been anchored on a rock shelf and that the lower side rested on a bed of sand. When the sand washed out, the pier leaned over. It was kept from falling on its side by the steel framing.
The L&N railroad then began the task of tearing down the structure, rock by rock. Each piece was numbered so that it might be put back in its original place. After a cofferdam was built to blast out a new foundation on solid rock, the stones were put back, one by one.
In the meantime, trains were allowed to proceed slowly over the structure after the piles had been driven for a temporary support. However, the ferryboat continued to operate until the pier was rebuilt. When the work was completed, wagons and buggies again used the bridge, and the traffic continued until the Broad Street Bridge was built.
W.U. Paschel was born in Russell County and brought to Gadsden at a young age by his uncle, Abner E. Paschel. The younger Paschal recalled that he arrived in a wagon after a one-week trip. Shortly thereafter, he took a job in Anniston at a salary of $4.20 a week. Paschel soon moved back to Gadsden and eventually became one of the city’s most successful businessmen.
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