7 votes

South Fork Bridge


Oblique view

Photo taken by Wayne Kizziar in 2001

BH Photo #100448


Street View 


From National Register Nomination


Characterized by its unique closed spandrel deck arch design, the significance of the South Fork Bridge is further enhanced by its original status as a county constructed bridge. Designed by H. S. Moreland and constructed in 1925 by the Garland County bridge crew under the direction of F. M. Kelley, the South Fork Bridge forms a uniquely personal interpretation of an already idiosyncratic design. The historic context of this property is the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department Era: 1923-1939 and is nominated under Criteria A and C with statewide significance.


"Greatest Flood in History sweeps down River" was the headline greeting the readers of the Hot Springs newspaper, The Sentinel Record, on Saturday morning, April 16, 1927.[1] The Mississippi River and its tributaries were breaking their banks and causing havoc throughout the river basin. These record-breaking floods of 1927 described as "the worst national disaster in modern Arkansan history," devastated the roads and bridges of the State.[2] "It inundated 1242 miles of road and washed out 293 bridges on state highways.”[3]

Though one of the less ravaged counties in Arkansas, Garland County, in west central Arkansas, was suffering greatly from these floods. Among the rivers flooding the county was the South Fork of the Saline River, which passed through the eastern part of the county. It was the flooding of this river which prompted the erection of be South Fork bridge and its approaches.

The flooding of the South Fork of the Saline River severely damaged the road linking Lonsdale, a small town on the east side of the county, with Highway 70, now Highway 5.[4] This connecting road, now Highway 128 and part of the Arkansas State Highway System, was a minor route in the county in the 1920's. As such the precise character of the route across the river before the flooding is uncertain. There was no suggestion of a pre-existing bridge across the river immediately prior to the building of the new bridge and access across the river may well have been gained via a ford.[5]

The flooding also damaged the nearby farm of one William Dodson.His farm, "washed out by the floods," was to contain the site of the new bridge and its approaches.[6] In November of 1928, when the payments for many of the costs of the South Fork bridge were being made, Dodson was given $750 by the county as "part payment of South Fork bridge.”[7] This was probably compensation for a new routing of the road and its bridge.


The financing and intended construction of a bridge over the South Fork of the Saline River was first recorded in the county court records for November 14, 1927. The Quorum Court for that day had County Judge Charles H. Davis presiding over a record attendance of fifty County Justices.[8] The Quorum or Levying Court sitting each November in the Garland County courthouse in Hot Springs, was the administrator of county finances. Each year it appropriated and dispensed funds required in the execution of the financial responsibilities of the county. The 1927 Quorum Court sitting was particularly important because much work needed to be done to organize the finances for the repair of roads and bridges after the spring floods.

The court procedure commenced in the morning session of the sitting with the levying of a 3 mill (3 x 1/10 cent) tax "for road and bridge purposes for the ensuing year”.[9] This funding was significant, as the tax was levied against "all taxable property in Garland County".[10] Together with the income from car registrations it provided sufficient funding for the allotment, later that morning, of "$65,000 out of the road and bridge revenue of this county for road and bridge purposes".[11] The afternoon session primarily was devoted to the specific distribution of the appropriated funds. It was in this session that the financial allocation for the South Fork bridge, among other bridges, was made.It was recorded in the county court records as follows:

"In the matter of the appropriation of $3500.00 for Bridge over South Fork Saline: A motion is now made by Justice Lynch that this court appropriate the sum of $3500 for the purpose of building a bridge over the South Fork of the Saline, and said motion being duly seconded by Justice Burrough, the motion was put with the result that all Justices present voted Aye, and the motion was unanimously adopted."[12]

On November 15 the Sentinel Record recorded the allocation, giving a more precise location for the site of the bridge:" Other appropriations were $3500 for a bridge on the South Fork of the Saline River, just near the Dodson farm which was washed out by the spring floods."[13]


The South Fork bridge and its approach were built during the summer and fall of 1928 by the county crew under the supervision of Francis Marion Kelley, the county's bridge specialist.[14] The bridge was completed by November and Judge Davis, in his assessment of the year's work in the county made at the Quorum Court of 1928, noted that:

"The county has just finished a very fine concrete bridge over the South Fork Creek in the eastern part of the county, which is 100 feet in length, of two 50 ft. arch spans, and the county is at present building the approaches to it.”[15]

Records of the precise structural material used in the construction of the bridge have been conflicting. Judge Davis has described the South Fork bridge as “being of solid concrete.”[16] F. M. Kelley’s wife, Maidy, who was in attendance during the construction of the bridge, remembered Kelley saying he "put a lot of steel into that bridge.”[17] While Judge Davis certainly would have been familiar with the plans of the bridge (his close involvement with county roads has been documented below), F. M. Kelley was an experienced bridge builder and may well have made an on-site decision to use steel in the piers or the retaining walls. It is almost certain, however, that the arch construction was mass concrete rather than reinforced concrete.[18]

Included in the work on the bridge was the construction of the approaches, still incomplete by November 1928. The approach road, consisting of a new gravel surface, was laid to provide a suitable passage to the bridge.

The South Fork bridge consists of two spans of concrete arch barrels with closed spandrels which rise to form the parapet walls. The flat deck consists of a sand and gravel infill - the material of the approach road - contained within the side walls. Splayed retaining walls set at angles of 45 degrees from the bridge axis hold he loose road material at the river’s edge.

The elements of this bridge provide powerful visual contrasts that are essential to the success of the bridge design. The parapet walls, decorated with recessed roundels flanked by curving panels, rise with the arch, echoing but not following its structural curve. As the walls spring from a line too low relative to the deck to form a protective barrier, they are supplemented by plain steel handrails. These handrails run horizontally from each rail-post and into the rising parapet walls. The curves of arch and wall contrast vividly with the horizontals of handrail and deck, creating a surprisingly original and idiosyncratic bridge design that remains completely coherent.

The date for the completion of the South Fork bridge is recorded on a commemorative bronze plaque, removed from the south west end of the bridge in 1985.[19] This plaque, cast by The Egyptian Iron Works of Murphysboro, Illinois, dates the bridge to October 1928 and credits County Judge Davis, F. M. Kelley, builder, and H. S. Moreland, engineer.


Born on December 11, 1875, Charles Davis began his career as a reporter for the Hot Springs newspaper, The Sentinel Record, in 1893. For fifteen years he was involved with the newspaper and in 1908, at the age of thirty three, he began his career in the courthouse as deputy County Clerk. His career developed steadily until 1920 when he was elected judge of the county and probate courts. The greatest tribute paid to him was made by Dallas T. Herndon in his classic, "The Centennial History of Arkansas” (1922) when he spoke of Davis' public career: "Over the record of his public career there falls no shadow of wrong nor suspicion of evil... and the many times he has been re-elected to office is unmistakable proof of his capability and fidelity in discharging the duties that have developed upon him."[20]

Judge Davis was a frugal director of county finances. By 1927 he had reduced an incumbent debt of $154,000 to $15,000.[21] Yet despite his careful bookkeeping he fully understood the importance of maintaining roads and routes. He supervised the restoration of the county road system after the devastation of the 1927 spring floods, a task described as "a big job" by The Sentinel Record.[22] Furthermore, he was involved with the development of U.S. 70, now Highway 5, "The first paved Spa-Little Rock highway.”[23]


Born in March 1891, Francis Marion Kelley was the fourth and youngest son in a family of six.[24] His father, James M. Kelley, came from Alabama and settled in Garland County after the Civil War. A carpenter by trade, James Kelley was also a successful farmer and music teacher.His multi-talented abilities persisted in his youngest son, Francis Marion. Francis Marion Kelley served in the First World War as a diesel mechanic. He returned to his home county to open a garage, but soon joined the county road crew. His technical expertise was welcomed by the county and he served as supervisor in the construction of a number of county bridges in the 1920's.[25]

Under Kelley's direction the South Fork bridge was erected by the county bridge crew, an unusual fact for a bridge of this scale and this date. Typically such bridges would have been erected either by the State Highway Department, if the route lay within the State Highway System, or the bridge construction would have been contracted to a bridge-building company. However, Garland County, under the direction of Judge Davis, consistently entrusted its bridge building to Kelley and his crew. This was a significant gesture of confidence in the abilities of F. M. Kelley.


The plaque commemorating the completion of the South Fork bridge attributes its design to H. S. Moreland. However, Moreland remains an essentially anonymous figure. His practice is not known beyond its association with a number of contemporary bridges in the county.[26] Bridge plans with Moreland's name are in the possession of the Kelley Family, but no address is given. Nor can Moreland be associated with the erection of any of the bridges.[27] While Kelley certainly directed the entire construction of the South Fork bridge, and undoubtedly played a significant role in the details of its erection, the precise roles played by Moreland and Kelley cannot be determined from the information available on the bridge.

[1] "Greatest Flood in History sweeps down River." The Sentinel Record, April 16, 1927, p. 1.

[2] Ferguson, John L., "Highways and Hope.”The Record, 1967, p. 78.

[3] Hume, John."The Automobile Age in Arkansas." Part VI, Arkansas Highways, Summer 1978, p. 11.

[4] Highway 70 today is south of old Highway 70.

[5] In conversation with Buster Coleman. At low water the river would have been crossed without difficulty, consequently a ferry crossing was unlikely.

[6] "Appropriation for Bridge Made.”The Sentinel Record, Novernber 15, 1927, p. 7.

[7] Garland County Court Records, Book P, p. 493.

[8] "Appropriation for Bridge Made." loc. cit.

[9] Garland County Court Records. Book P. p. 493.

[10] ibid.

[11] ibid., p. 126.

[12] ibid..p. 130.

[13] "Appropriation for Bridge Made." loc. cit.

[14] In conversation with Maidy Kelly-Byers and Buster Coleman.

[15] "Quorum Court Recognizes Need for New County Jail." The Sentinel Record, November 13, 1928, p. 6.

[16] “New Jail is Given $60,000." The Sentinel Record, November 13, 1929, page 10?(incomplete copy).

[17] In conversation with Maidy Kelley-Byers.

[18] See description below.

[19] Now in possession of Kelley Family. It reads:"South Fork; Cha. H. Davis, Co. Judge:H.S. Moreland Eng’r; F. M. Kelly, Builder, Oct 1928".

[20] Herndon, Dallas T., The Centennial History of Arkansas. Chicago-Little Rock, 1922, Vol. II, p. 488.

[21] "County Roads are Given Attention." The Sentinel Record, May 1, 1927, p. 7.

[22] ibid.

[23] Moore, M., "First Paved Spa-Little Rock Highway." The Record, Hot Springs-Garland County Historical Society Yearbook, 1967, pp. 32.

[24] Kelley, G.A., "James M. Kelly Family." The Record, Hot Springs-Garland County Historical Society Yearbook, 1987, pp. 190-192.

[25] In conversation with Gene Aalton Kelly.

[26] Gene Aalton Kelly holds drawings by Moreland for other Garland County bridges, including Gulfa Gorge Bridge and Cedar Creek Bridge.

[27] Neither Buster Coleman or Maidy Kelly-Byers recollect Moreland's attendance during construction of the South Fork Bridge. In fact, Coleman stated that he was unaware of an engineer's involvement until he saw the plate.

See Historic Bridges of Arkansas, Multiple Property Nomination, Section H.


Two-span concrete arch bridge over South Fork Saline River, next to AR 128
Garland County, Arkansas
Open to pedestrians only
Future prospects
Built 1928 by a county work crew for $3,500. Made obsolete by a new bridge in 1985 and closed to traffic.
Closed-spandrel arch
Length of largest span: 51.0 ft.
Total length: 115.0 ft.
Deck width: 16.0 ft.
Posted to the National Register of Historic Places on April 9, 1990
Approximate latitude, longitude
+34.60341, -92.92270   (decimal degrees)
34°36'12" N, 92°55'22" W   (degrees°minutes'seconds")
Approximate UTM coordinates
15/507088/3829066 (zone/easting/northing)
Quadrangle map:
Fountain Lake
Inventory numbers
NRHP 90000521 (National Register of Historic Places reference number)
BH 10350 (Bridgehunter.com ID)

Update Log 

  • March 16, 2012: Essay added by Nathan Holth
  • March 4, 2011: New Street View added by J.P.



South Fork Bridge
Posted February 28, 2007, by Fred Garcia (fandsgarcia [at] gmail [dot] com)

Visited this bridge on 5 Nov. 2006 at 4:30 pm. The east bank approach is scoured significantly but one can still manage to get across. Some grafitti evident at various locations. There are some holes in the deck. Best access to bridge is from west approach. Good pictures can be taken from beneath the replacement bridge and also from the the upstream side gravel bar of the old bridge.

Webmaster's note: The photos that were here have been incorporated into the main site.