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Woodward Library receives donation of table built from remains of Port Royal covered bridge

For nearly a century, the Port Royal covered bridge stood as more than just a literal bridge that allowed passage over the Cumberland River’s Red River stream. Until its destruction in 1998, it served as a bridge between generations of Montgomery County residents. Over the decades, the Burr Truss bridge overlooked children at play, private weddings and countless family gatherings.

For nearly a century, the Port Royal covered bridge stood as more than just a literal bridge that allowed passage over the Cumberland River’s Red River stream. Until its destruction in 1998, it served as a bridge between generations of Montgomery County residents. Over the decades, the Burr Truss bridge overlooked children at play, private weddings and countless family gatherings.

First built in 1903, the original incarnation collapsed in 1971, before being rebuilt in 1977. That version would ultimately be claimed by a tornado in 1998 and was not rebuilt.

But while the overpass itself no longer stands, the creativity of two Austin Peay State University alums ensured that a small piece of the once-proud bridge can live on in a new form.

“The Port Royal Bridge was very important to the people of this area,” APSU alumnus Larry Ellis (’71) said. “It was just a beautiful old bridge that was a part of our lives growing up.”

After a flood caused the bridge’s destruction in 1971, Ellis and friend, and fellow APSU alumnus, Kenny Bishop decided to claim a piece of Port Royal. Trudging into the Red River, the two recovered scraps of wood and iron and set about giving them new purpose.

“We pulled out what we could before the river sent the debris down stream and threw it into our truck,” Ellis said. “When we got back home, Kenny went to work turning the wood and iron we recovered into a table that I’ve had with me for basically the last 40 years.”

Comprised entirely of wood salvaged from the bridge, the planks that form its surface are kept together with iron that once served as its trusses.

Wanting to give back to his alma mater in a unique way, Ellis contacted the APSU Woodward Library’s Scott Shumate in September to see if the University would have interest in adding the table to its University archives.

“I’m from Clarksville myself, so I remember and have fond memories of the the bridge in the 1990s,” Shumate, who serves as a digital services assistant at Woodward Library, said. “When Larry contacted us to see if we’d be interested in the table, we talked about it and decided it would be a great chance to have a piece of local history.”

Hand-delivered by Ellis, the table currently sits on display on the second floor of the Woodward Library, with numerous possibilities for display as a part of the library’s permanent collection.

Due to a lack of funding, the Port Royal Bridge was never reconstructed after its destruction in 1998. What remains of the bridge is closed to foot traffic, with much of the wood that once comprised the pathway hauled off-site to be used as a barn for an area farmer.

As an academic library with a mission to inform, educate and preserve, a rare gift like Ellis’s salvaged table represents a chance for Woodward Library and APSU to save a piece of Montgomery County history for current and future generations of students and residents.

“I’ve had this table for a long time because it has a lot of significance for me,” Ellis said. “But I honestly can’t think of a better place for this table made from the Port Royal Bridge to be than at Austin Peay State University.”

For more information on APSU’s Woodward Library, visit library.apsu.edu, or call 931-221-7346.