Bridge Builder, Lewis Cooper

“DIED, on Sunday last [28 September 1817], Mr. LEWIS COOPER. He was an ingenious mechanic, and the principal architect who constructed the bridge which now proudly ornaments our river. He has left an amiable wife and children to regret his loss.” (Augusta Chronicle, 1 October 1817.)

Lewis Cooper headstone

Lewis Cooper headstone at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Augusta, Georgia. ‘In veneration of his Character & as a tribute of Respect to his Memory this Stone is erected by his disconsolate widow and surviving Children, to mark the spot where lie the Remains of LEWIS COOPER, A Native of Newark (New Jersey) who died Sept. 28, 1817; Aged 32 years.’

Shultz was intelligent, active, handy, and a great organizer, but he must have realized that he couldn’t really build a bridge. After all, Wade Hampton I had already built two bridges at Augusta with no expense spared, and both were swept away by floods. I don’t know how Shultz came to meet Lewis Cooper, but he recognized Cooper as an essential element of his vision.

An Augusta Chronicle article announcing the opening of the bridge stated “The pileing, sleepers, braces, &c., are of the best Cypress, and the whole fabric having so far been completed in a very substantial matter by Mr. COOPER, is admitted by experienced Architects, to be the most excellent piece of work of its kind ever seen in the Southern States’. (19 August 1814, page 3 column 1: ‘New Bridge’). Curiously, this article does not mention Shultz at all.

To his credit, Shultz never claimed the design and construction of his bridge, although he frequently stated that he ‘built’ it. He did pull the project together and keep it going. He promoted, secured financing, obtained charters from both state legislatures, and secured rights to the landings at each end of the bridge. He personally supervised eighty men downriver to cut the towering cypress trees that he had surely noted during his career on the pole boats.

And Shultz found another backer when Lewis Cooper sold out his interest in the project. It’s not known why Cooper got out. Perhaps all he cared about was the bridge itself, and was ready to leave a free-spending Shultz to improve the surrounding infrastructure. Since Cooper died only three years after the bridge was finished, this decision may have have been best for him, even though the bridge later proved to be a cash cow. But Shultz was definitely irked at the time, felt Cooper had lost heart at a critical moment, and in following years harped on this foil to his own tenacity.

Think about this one. In 1815, Cooper built a sixty foot long wharf on the Savannah River. Shultz promptly replied with a vastly overbuilt wharf six hundred feet long.


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