Georgia Railroad Trestle
|In 1883 the Georgia Railroad built this trestle across Athens' Trail Creek, along with a bridge over the nearby North Oconee River, as part of a half-mile extension into downtown. Although the railroad had begun operations into Athens in late 1841, its terminus and depot remained east of the river, on the high ground known as Carr's Hill, for the first four decades of its existence.
To make the new downtown link, the railroad builders erected a Howe deck truss bridge of wood and iron over the river and a wooden trestle over the creek. The bridge stood until 1973, when it was replaced by a deck girder bridge, now also gone except for its piers. The wooden trestle might have also have been taken down if not for the fact that it appeared on the back cover of the rock band R.E.M.'s 1983 Murmur album.
In 2000 demolition had begun but was halted when a fundraising effort by R.E.M. fans convinced the city to buy the trestle. Plans to restore it as part of a projected rail-trail were debated, but the several million dollars needed for restoring the deteriorating structure could not be secured. The rail-trail will likely bypass the trestle in some manner.
Although its wooden units were periodically replaced during the decades and other modifications were made in the early 1950s, the structure remains as an impressive example of the many wooden trestles once found across the state. Most of these are now gone, often replaced by earthen embankments and steel bridges that are easier to maintain.
Today the trestle and the bridge piers can be seen in the city's Dudley Park off East Broad Street.
A 2009 report on the trestle prepared for Georgia DOT is online at the agency's website here. It includes historical photos and maps relative to both the trestle and the river bridge. A 2012 report also provides useful maps and historical information; it is on the GDOT website here. (Note: These are large files that may take a long time to download.)
RailGa.com. Georgia's Railroad History & Heritage. © Steve Storey