By JEFFREY POWELL
Transportation routes and the ability to circumvent natural obstacles have been a part of man’s history since before recorded time. Throughout all time historical events, large and small, have revolved around man’s access to certain places on the globe. To access these places and natural resources man has had to be creative with their surroundings to get where they wanted to go. Such was the case on the upper Chipola River in Jackson County, Fla.
The first recorded crossing of the upper Chipola River was in 1686. Spanish explorer Marcos Delgado reported leaving what is now known as Blue Springs and passing around the head of a smaller spring before arriving at the Chipola River. He stated that the water was about six feet deep and his men and horses were able to swim the short distance. The area where Bellamy Bridge now stands is the only area that matches this account. Later, during the first Seminole War of 1817-1818, American Indians crossed the river in what is more than likely the same spot or very close to it. The site was also an important crossing point for early Anglo settlers coming to the region to homestead. An early road leading from Spring Creek settlement to Blue Springs and on to the Chattahoochee River crossed the Chipola River here and can be seen on maps that date as far back as the 1820’s.
Dr. Edward Bellamy purchased the land were the bridge now stands in 1836 and operated a large plantation in the area. The first wooden bridge was built in 1851 by Dr. Horace Ely and Bird Hathaway. Around that same time Jackson County officials approved building an improved roadway that ensured the viability of this East-West thoroughfare.
During the Civil War Confederate troops guarded the span watching for Union soldiers. By 1872 a new bridge was completed but it only lasted two years due to flooding and a third span was constructed in 1874. The steel-frame bridge that stands today was built in 1914 for the cost of $2,389. It is 119 feet long and is the oldest bridge of its type in Florida. Bellamy Bridge also ranks as one of the 10 oldest standing bridges in the state. The use of Bellamy Bridge was discontinued in 1963 when a new span was completed just north on CR-162.
Bellamy Bridge is also known for reasons more supernatural. The ghost of Bellamy Bridge was first reported in a Marianna newspaper in 1890. The apparition is said to be the beautiful young wife of Dr. Bellamy. This part of the story has neither been confirmed or denied as of this date.
Today the Bellamy Bridge Heritage Trail allows visitors to see the bridge via a short walk in the woods. A joint effort by the Northwest Florida Water Management District, Jackson County Parks and the Friends of Bellamy Bridge have created a walking trail along the old road creating public access. The access is located off CR-162 north of Marianna. More information can be obtained by calling (850) 693-1580.