If you’ve been to the campus lately, I’m sure you’ve seen the new bridge that’s being built over White Oak Creek on Highway 18.
The bridge that MDOT is replacing actually has a pretty neat story.
When Holtzclaw first built the school on this site, students would arrive via train on the Little J rail line. This train route connected Jackson to Natchez and went through all the little towns along Highway 18 (you can still see the depot in Carpenter a few miles south of the campus). For Utica students, the train would stop alongside the tracks and drop them off a mile and a half from the campus. You can see the original site where the “Utica Institute Station” was located on Traxler road (there weren’t any buildings though; just a rail siding). If you wanted to get off at the Utica Institute, you’d just let the conductor know and they would stop the train. If you wanted to get on the train, you’d flag them down as they were coming through. In the early days of the institution, students would walk from the rail station over to the campus. In the process, they had to cross White Oak Creek on their own with whatever luggage they were carrying as they made their way to the campus.
In a 1922 catalog for the school (below), Holtzclaw wrote about how excited they were about the new White Oak Creek bridge. He writes, “In former years, it was necessary to cross a large creek when getting off here, but this is no longer necessary. A beautiful highway has recently been completed from the school’s grounds to the Utica Institute station.” This “beautiful highway” is Highway 18 and our White Oak Creek bridge!
Another place we see Holtzclaw’s excitement about the bridge is in this 1921 flyer for the annual Farmers’ Conferences. “Every body will leave the train at Institute. No creek to cross this year. New road to Institute.”
We contacted MDOT a while back and asked if they had any information about the construction of the bridge. They put me in touch with the chief engineer in charge of bridge inspection who was able to look the bridge up in their archival records. The bridge was built in the 1920s, but from their records, it was actually constructed of materials from an even older bridge. The extreme age of the bridge is why large trucks are no longer able to cross the bridge – and why the state is replacing it. While it will be sad to see our historic bridge leave, it is nice to know that we’ll soon have a safer crossing. Just think: 100 years ago, we would have been walking through the woods to cross White Oak Creek anytime we left the campus!
If anyone has any ideas for what we could do with the bridge, let us know! If we can come up with a good use for it, perhaps the state will donate the bridge to the campus. It would be worth a conversation to be sure.