It’s probably the oldest bridge still standing in Louisiana (and probably sturdier than some we drive on every day).
According to the old records, J. B. Levert, owner of St. John Plantation, had the bridge built in 1895 just south of the present bridge.
In 1900, Levert asked the Morgan Louisiana & Texas Railroad and Steamship Co. to build a spur to serve his sugar refinery, and that was when the bridge was moved to its present site.
At first only trains and pedestrians could use the one-lane bridge, but in the 1950s, after the mill no longer needed railroad transportation, an asphalt overlay was placed over the tracks so that trucks could use the bridge.
In a place as wet as south Louisiana, it seems a bit strange that bridges such as this one were a relatively new phenomenon. According to National Register documents, “The use of bridges as the principal form of traversing waterways came to the state only comparatively late. In fact, very few bridges existed in Louisiana until 1924.” That’s when the state highway department began a more-or-less systematic program to replace ferries with bridges. Just a handful of Louisiana bridges are left that were built before 1920 and the St. John-Levert bridge is the only one still standing that was built before 1910.
The bridge is 264 feet long and not quite 15 feet wide. It was built with supports known as Warren trusses at each end, which are those iron triangles that were used in building so many bridges of the day. The system was patented in 1848 by British engineers James Warren and Willoughby Theobald Monzani, and
combines strength with economy of materials and can therefore be relatively light and—important to Levert, who footed the bill—inexpensive.
A rectangular span in the center of the bridge was designed to swing open to create a channel 50 feet wide for boats to pass through.
Structural problems caused the bridge to be closed to vehicle traffic about 10 years ago and the bridge has been permanently open since then so that boats can travel up and down the Teche without hindrance.
St. Martinville Mayor Thomas Nelson says he’d like to bring the old bridge to St. Martinville for use as a fishing pier at a planned RV park – but paying for the move and necessary reconstruction is (as always) the problem. He’s been looking for a grant to help out, but without much luck so far. He figures it will cost $100,000, maybe more.
Nelson envisions doing something in St. Martinville like folks in Breaux Bridge did when they salvaged the old bridge from the Ruth community for use as a fishing pier and stage for the Parc des Ponts along the bayou.
However it’s done, the bridge should be saved. It’s the oldest one we’ve got in Louisiana. That alone makes it worth the effort.
You can contact Jim Bradshaw at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.