Forks of the Road bridge ownership in question

Published 12:02 am Saturday, July 11, 2015

NATCHEZ — When the City of Natchez received ownership of the historic brick bridge at the Forks of the Road site, it was assumed that deed included the whole bridge.

Turns out, the city only owns half of the bridge.

The other half is privately owned.

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“We were shocked when we found out the bridge was owned by three different people,” said Mimi Miller, executive director of the Historic Natchez Foundation.

Natchez resident Vidal Davis owns one quarter of the bridge, while Natchez residents Scott and Edeen Galbreath own the other quarter.

The city acquired the two-acre Forks of the Road property in May from Chartre Co.

Natchez National Historical Park Superintendent Kathleen Jenkins said the property was given to the city with the intention that it will eventually be deeded to the Natchez National Historical Park.

Davis said the historic property has been in his family for decades.

“It’s just something we’ve owned for a long time,” Davis said. “We had no plans to do anything with it.”

After learning about the city’s plan to give the site to the park, Davis said he offered to donate his share of the property to the city — no strings attached.

“We’re glad to do it,” he said.

Scott Galbreath said he is unsure what he will do with his portion of the bridge, and he hasn’t been contacted by the city about the bridge.

Wednesday, the Natchez Preservation Commission approved an application that the bridge and the Forks of the Road site be recommended for landmark site designation.

However, because the bridge is just partially owned by the city, only half would be included in that designation.

“You can’t landmark private property without (the owners’) permission,” Miller said during the preservation commission’s regularly scheduled meeting. “But, you can landmark the city’s.”

The next step in designating Forks of the Road — along with the bridge — as a landmark site is getting approval by the Natchez Board of Aldermen.

“I don’t think the aldermen will have any problem with this, as long as it’s explained to them,” Miller said. Smokey Joe Frank, local historian, said the bridge should gain landmark status based on its architectural significance.

“It’s basically the only brick bridge that’s left intact in Southwest Mississippi,” Frank said. “It’s just as important as an antebellum home.”

Frank said some believe the bridge was built in the 1880s, but that has not been proven.

“Oral tradition can get a little distorted here in Natchez,” Frank said. “Sometimes legend can become fact.”

Regardless of its construction date, Jenkins said the bridge would be “a wonderful addition to the landmark site.”

If the board of aldermen approves the preservation commission’s recommendation, Jenkins said the Mississippi Department of Archives and History would then grant landmark site status.

“I think they should take whatever steps are available to enhance the protection available to (Forks of the Road),” said Jenkins, adding that she’s glad the preservation commission continues to pursue the site’s landmark status.

Miller said if the city is able to acquire the second half of the bridge, they could go back and apply to designate the entire bridge as a landmark.