Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Bridging Two Cities in the 1800s

In 1862 a man by the name of James Oliver Nuckolls migrated to Bossier Parish with his family. Two years later, at the age of 17, he joined the Third Louisiana Battalion Army and served the duration of the war between the states. After the war, he returned to Bossier Parish, where he settled in Plain Dealing. Here, he farmed the land, married, raised a family, and lived out the rest of his days.

In his later years, he enjoyed writing about days gone by. One of his writings provides details of old Red River crossings during bygone times. He wrote this recollection upon an "urgent request" from his friend J. T. Manry on Feb. 29, 1932, just three months before his death. The Bossier Banner-Progress published his story Mar. 10th.

Jones' Landing, Va., vicinity. Pontoon bridge over the James, from the north bank. United States Virginia Jones' Landing, None. [Between 1860 and 1865] Photograph.

He begins by describing the first bridge to connect Bossier City to Shreveport. According to Nuckolls, "The first bridge across the river at Shreveport was a pontoon bridge. It was constructed by placing a number of skiffs parallel and close together and laying across heavy plank for flooring. It made a very substantial bridge. It was built chiefly to facilitate military operations. My own company, the Third Louisiana Battery of Light Artillery, crossed on it the last year of the war."

Other articles have appeared over the years that mention the pontoon bridge during the war. William S. Ingram was a long-time newspaperman who managed both the Shreveport Journal and the Shreveport Times during his career. He enjoyed writing historical pieces. In an article published by The Shreveport Times in 1926, he states, "Nathan Hirsch, the father of Willie R. Hirsch, lived for many years with Mr. Levy, and during the Civil war guarded the pontoon bridge which crossed the Red river near Cotton street..."

Eric J. Brock, a long-time local historian, wrote many articles and books about Shreveport and Bossier. In an article he wrote for The Shreveport Times, he states, "In 1864, a pontoon bridge was built crossing Red River from near the Confederate Navy Yard (established to build ironclads and located on the riverfront about where the Expo Hall and Harrah's now stand) to the Cane Place - "Elysian Grove." This bridge was destroyed a year after the war by massive flooding. Another bridge was also built, connecting Fort Turnbull to Bossier Parish, just south of Battery Ewell."

In Nuckolls' article, he explains that after the pontoon bridge was gone, ferry steamboats were used to provide transportation of people, stock, and wagons across the river. One of the ferries in operation for a long time was the Sterling White, captained by Ben M. White. In 1881, the Red River's water level became too low to operate his ferry. He was granted permission to install a pontoon bridge until the water level returned to his steamboat's navigable level.

The use of ferries between Bossier City and Shreveport came to an end when the first permanent bridge was constructed in 1884. The VS&P railroad bridge had a wooden deck that allowed wagon and pedestrian traffic to cross. There was a toll fee for wagons and pedestrians to cross. Nuckolls tells about the new bridge and informs his readers, "I was collector of the tolls on the bridge during 1906 and 1910, and everybody going east or west had to pass me."

VS&P bridge with wagons and pedestrians crossing, 1884. Neill Yarborough Collection: 2006.034.018

Recording history by writing stories of days gone by, like Nuckolls and others have done, provide future generations with historical facts that might not otherwise be known. The Bossier Parish Libraries History Center has been the primary repository for the history of Bossier Parish since 1999. What do you want to know about Bossier Parish's history? Visit, call, or email the Bossier Parish Library History Center for help with your research. We are at 2206 Beckett Street, Bossier City, 318-746-7717,

By: Amy Robertson

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