Historic Structures

Bridge House - Tifts Hall, Albany Georgia

Date added: July 3, 2019 Categories: Georgia Commercial Bridges

The Classical-Italianate style Bridge House, built circa 1857 is significant as the only known extant bridge house in Georgia. Once a center of Albany, economically and socially, with its theater - ballroom above the busy agricultural bridge traffic below, the Bridge House now houses the Keenan Auto Parts Company.

The Bridge House was built as a result of a dispute between Colonel Nelson Tift and the Baker County Commissioners over the building of Albany's first bridge over the Flint River. Before this bridge was built, travel across the Flint River from Albany was hampered by the use of a hand operated ferry. Colonel Tift, the owner of the ferry, had wanted the County Commissioners to build a bridge on this spot for the town. When they refused to dc so, Tift hired Horace King, a well known black bridge builder of Georgia, to build a bridge that he could run as a business. The Bridge House was built at the same time as a bridge with a tunnel through its ground floor as a collection point for tolls on wagons and horses using the bridge. The charging of a toll was one of Tift's methods of recouping the large sum of money that he had spent in building the bridge and the Bridge House. The citizens of Albany were pleased to finally have a bridge and gladly paid the toll at first; however, the toll soon became a burden. This resentment against Tift and the bridge may have led directly to the burning of the first bridge several years after it was built. A second bridge was soon built on the foundations of the first one and sold to the county for $20,000. However, Tift still owned the land at either end of the bridge and the Bridge House.

Tift had been running the second floor of the bridge as a theater and ballroom called Tift's Hall, since the building had been completed, to replace the money spent in constructing the building. He hired fresco artists from New York to paint scenes on the ceiling of the room and the proscenium arch over the stage. It was considered the most beautifully decorated theater in the state during the middle nineteenth century. Because of its luxuriousness, Tift's theater attracted many important actors and musicians of the mid-nineteenth century. Such performers as Laura Keene, the Swiss Bell Ringers, Harry McCarthy and the Crisp family of Shakespearean players which included Charles F. Crisp who later became a Georgia congressnan, performed at Tift Hall.

Since the theater seats were moveable, the theater could become a ballroom when it was necessary and many balls and dancing classes were held there luring the 1850's.

During the Civil War, the area of land between Bridge House and the river was turned into slaughter pens for hogs and cattle. The basement was used to pickle the meat in brine so that it could be shipped to the troops at the battle front.

In 1916, P. A. Keenan bought the building and established a blacksmith shop called the Empire Smithing Company which later became the Keenan Auto Parts Company.