|John Wells Bridges|
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the Alabama River is 318 miles long, stretching from just north of Montgomery all the way down to where it joins the Tombigbee River to form the Mobile River, north of Mount Vernon.
In all those miles along the Alabama River, sources say that the biggest bend in the river is in Wilcox County, and this giant bend had a big impact on early river travelers in Wilcox County. In a story published in The Montgomery Advertiser during the summer of 1886, it was reported, under the headline “The Biggest Bend,” that the “Alabama River is full of big bends, but the biggest of all is in Wilcox County on the Camden side. It is 40 miles around the great bend in the river from Bridgeport to Burfords Landing, and the distance between the two points on a straight line across the county is only about eight miles. It is only four miles from Bridgeport to Camden and seven miles from Burfords Landing to Camden.”
As you might imagine, this 40-mile bend in the river created a unique situation for riverboat travelers and also provided a unique opportunity for the relatively young town of Camden. The Advertiser went on to say that passengers coming up from Mobile would often get off their boat a Burfords Landing, travel overland to Camden and spend half the day there before traveling overland to Bridgeport to get back on the same boat that they’d gotten off of earlier in the day. On the other side of the coin, travelers headed south on the river from Montgomery could get off the boat at Bridgeport, conduct any business they had in Camden and then catch the boat again at Burfords Landing to continue south.
Bridgeport, which is located almost due north of Camden, was known to exist as early as 1838 and was named for politician John Wells Bridges, according to the Historical Atlas of Alabama. Bridges, a native of South Carolina, died in 1858 at the age of 59 after representing Wilcox County as a State Representative and State Senator in the 1820s, 1830s and 1840s. He is buried in the Bridges Cemetery in Wilcox County.
Today, Burfords Landing is more commonly known as Beauford Landing. This landing is located southwest of Camden between Holly Ferry and Hobbs Landing. Apparently, the name for this landing derives from the old Buford Plantation, which was located not far from this site.
The heyday of trade and travel on the Alabama River harkens back to Oct. 21, 1821 when the steamboat “Harriet” reached Montgomery after 10 days of travel from Mobile. This was the first successful attempt to navigate so far north on the Alabama River and it opened river trade between Montgomery and Mobile. Trade and travel along the Alabama River thrived until around the time of the Civil War when railroads began to replace riverboats as the best way to move goods and people from place to place.
In the end, the Alabama River that passes through Wilcox County today is much different than the river that travelers would have seen during the early 1800s. When the Millers Ferry Lock and Dam was completed in 1974, it created the William “Bill” Dannelly Reservoir, which covers 27 square miles. One is left to wonder what earlier riverboat travelers along the Alabama River would have thought about such modern marvels as hydroelectric dams and giant concrete locks that control the flow of the mighty rivers waters.