Images of the Augusta Bridge
The new wonder crop, cotton, gave upcountry South Carolina a product to sell rather than simply eat. Cotton had to be delivered to a cash market, either Charleston on the coast, or the fall line port of Augusta. But Augusta was on the wrong side of the Savannah River, and as described by Henry Shultz himself, at least two previous attempts to build a bridge there had failed.
". . . . in the year 1791 the Legislature of the State of South Carolina granted to Wade Hampton the power to build a Bridge across the Savannah River from the State to the City of Augusta Georgia, at his own expense . . . . the said Wade Hampton built two bridges, one after the other at great expense both of which were swept away by the flood of the river, after which this great enterprize was abandoned as altogether impracticable and so remained, until 1813 . . . "
While the need for another try was obvious, it is not known how Shultz came to embrace the bridge project for his own ambition, how he developed his partnership with Lewis Cooper, or how he presented himself as a worthy risk to his backers. Whatever the case, Shultz was able to claim complete success in his venture.
". . . General Wade Hampton a man of vast wealth and of the highest energy twice attempted this enterprize, the ruins of his repeated attempts are yet there, to bear witness of his defeat. And here we have a poor Dutchman who talks to the Legislature about building a bridge across a stream that rises from twenty to thirty feet at a time. Cooper backed out and sold out, but the humble Dutchman hung on and calmly pursued, with Jno McKinne, the purpose he had conceived, and bridled the rebellious stream, which the wealthy, the powerful and the renowned had striven in vain to tame. . . ."
The contract setting up the project provided for Shultz to provide the timber, and Cooper to drive the piles, as Shultz recalled in his version of the construction milestones:
August 30th 1813
Sept 2d 1813
December 17th 1813
March 31st 1814
June 21st 1814
June 24th 1814
July 1st 1814
Oct 1st 1814
November 9th 1814
It is not known why Lewis Cooper passed his interest to businessman John McKinne, although the $8500 lump sum payment to Rowels and Leigh is a clue. The 975 ft long bridge proved incredibly durable and well fit for its purpose, despite its archaic king post trusses and the demonstrated wildness of the river. Its design was probably Lewis Cooper's, and Shultz never specifically claimed it. Whatever the case, the 30 foot deck height above low water, heavy protective cribbing and downstream back bracing showed a keen appreciation of the river's destructive power. The Georgia State charter described the bridge as 'strong, elegant and substantial.' With its structure of impervious cypress Shultz must have believed the bridge to be permanent, if his later megalomania is any indication. Cypress also explains the fact that the bridge was never covered, and remained open in defiance of rot and weather over its entire life.
The bridge also proved to be a cash cow. Returning 20% per annum on its original cost, Shultz and his new partner, John McKinne, literally treated the bridge as if it were made of gold. They used its success to capitalize the Bridge Company of Augusta, also known as the Bridge Bank. At first cautiously issuing small denomination change notes, probably given out as change for bridge tolls, the Bridge Bank came to issue widely held and highly regarded Bridge Bills in denominations of up to $100. Shultz was proud enough of his bridge to insist upon its accurate depiction (complete with prominent toll booths) on these Bridge Bills, and to show off the bridge itself on special occasions.
". . . when the great Lafayette came to the Savannah River, in his progress through our country, I saw the Eagles of Liberty waving, from Shore to Shore, and from State to State . . . "
". . . We took up our march, escorted by two companies of the CITY GUARDS, the RICHMOND HUSSARS, and a volunteer band of music, to the river's side where lay the steamboat "WASHINGTON", which had been chartered to convey us to Savannah. As we approached the river, the cannon of Hamburg, which the veteran SHULTZ had caused to be drawn upon the bridge, spoke the salutation of the crowd who attended our embarkation . . . "
By 1819, Shultz enjoyed the peak of his success in Augusta. His public works had visibly adorned his adopted city. He built a great bridge where others had failed. He built the less spectacular, but no less important and well designed Augusta Wharf. The prosperous Bridge Bank was housed in a large and substantial building near the foot of the bridge. At this point he seems to have decided that his work was done, and prepared to return to Germany by steadily liquidating all of his assets. If Shultz had been as quick to act in this as in his other affairs all would have been well. But insensible delays allowed his arrangements to become caught up in the Panic of 1819, which led to an illegal mortgage of the bridge by John McKinne, allowed the bridge to fall into hostile hands, defaulted half a million dollars in Bridge Bills, and aroused Henry Shultz's bitter hostility to the many who had wronged him.
"It is to me that Augusta owes the main public enterprizes she boasts; monuments not less of my toil, than of her injustice. By the arts of those who speculate in false promises to pay; by changers and hucksters of money, my honest and laborious gains were snatched from my hands. I was stripped, not only of my hard earnings, but of my last and dearest possession - my good name, my all. I was cast out, stigmatized and broken man, to seek a refuge in another State."
Shultz relentlessly probed for a crack in the armor until his death. In 1827, Shultz's appeal to the United States Supreme Court was refused due to lack of jurisdiction, whereupon Shultz took matters into his own hands by retaking the South Carolina toll booth. He collected tolls in competition with the Georgia side until his booth was thrown in the river. In the meantime Shultz advertised his willingness to accept worthless Bridge Bills, and held a regular ceremony at the center of the span where bills collected that week were publicly burned.
In 1838, a Savannah speculator and businessman by the name of Gazaway Bugg Lamar bought the bridge from the Bank of the State of Georgia for $70,000. Lamar was very much like Shultz in that he thrived on the Savannah River and its commerce. He too operated steamboats on the river, including its first iron hulled boat in 1834. He seems to have successfully managed a fleet of blockade runners during the War. In the meantime he opened the Bank of the Republic in New York through which he made a profitable financial connection to weaker Southern banks. He even developed a large section of the booming mountain town of Knoxville, Tennessee. The major difference between Lamar and Shultz was that Lamar was lucky and made money.
Only a year and a half after his purchase, Lamar flipped the bridge to the City of Augusta for $100,000. This did not escape Shultz's notice and comment:
"This matter is too solemn to sport with. The people of Augusta treated me with the blackest ingratitude, while I was acting the part of a faithful servant for them, in adorning their City with monuments, which they, themselves, were incapable of erecting, for which they made me a victim of persecution these twenty years. And this base act has already shaken this great City to its foundation.
"Hamburg will rise, and you will not regain the lost trade of South Carolina, as long as the waters of the Savannah divide the two States. Augusta shall return to a foreigner, a structure that natives were incapable of constructing; the ruins of their several attempts bear witness to this assertion.
"If a man, of an unbiassed mind and with only common sense can be found in Augusta, who knows the facts, ask him, and he will tell you, that justice will restore the bridge to its proper owners, as sure as the sun will rise to-morrow morning. My death shall not relieve you. . . .
"I am aware that you fancy yourselves into a delusive belief, that my fate will be that of a Columbus and a Fulton, who sunk in despair under the base ingratitude of mankind. No. Fate has decided in my favor. You shall find in me a Carolus the Great, the founder and defender of ancient Hamburg, and a Buonaparte, the Conqueror of the Bridge of Lodi.
"The next communication will be from a judicial authority."
Variously called the Augusta Bridge, City Bridge, Shultz's Bridge, Center Steet bridge, or the Hamburg Bridge, the structure was durable but not indestructible. A third of its length was washed away during the freshet of May 1840 (just after the lucky Lamar had made his profit), and half as much during a flood in 1852. Each time the bridge was quickly repaired, and it remained in service until completely and finally taken away in the Exposition flood of 1888.
In its heyday, gates placed at each end collected tolls, which according to the original charters were 75¢ for a wagon and team or four horse carriage, 12½¢ for a man and horse, 6¼¢ for a person on foot, and 4¢ for a hog, sheep, or goat. After the mortgage default, Shultz stubbornly maintained possession of his bridge until a final and adverse court order in March 1823. Shultz even yet declined to comply and was physically torn out of the Georgia toll booth by the prosecuting attorney, and the president of the bank holding the mortgage. Shultz later argued that Georgia and South Carolina charters independently authorized the taking of fares, and intermittently collected from his booth in South Carolina, until in 1828 that in turn was thrown overboard by, again, Samuel Hale, President of the Bank of the State of Georgia, and future Mayor of Augusta. Tradition has it that Henry Shultz was capricious and arbitrary in his consumer relations. The merciless hostility extended to him by leading citizens of Augusta supports the story.
Another traditional story tells of travellers who paid the toll at one end and proceeded across the river. On being challenged to pay again at the other end, they retreated to the middle and made camp for the night, complete with a cooking fire built directly on the pine deck. Sophia Ann Tillman, mother of the governor, evaded much of the toll by hitching her horse in Hamburg and walking across to Augusta. Berry Benson, the Confederate war hero, as a boy skipped across for free on the ties of the South Carolina Rail Road. In the meantime, Henry Shultz nursed his grudge to the end of his days.
". . . . there is another great Consolation and that is that the Ruler of Heaven and Earth has preserved our life to see the proud heads of our persecuters sunk beneath the surface of the earth and we are here to walk upon their bodies."
A beautiful and accurate painting was made showing Shultz's Bridge, 1816 by Willington Studio in 2006, on commission from Pat Blanchard of the First Bank of Georgia.
Henry Shultz and Hamburg, SC Home Page