Smith Lake’s Iconic Duncan Bridge: Then & Now

Duncan Bridge, located on the southwest side of Lewis Smith Lake, was constructed in 1961 when Alabama Power finished the hydroelectric power dam and water reservoir.

But the concrete and steel framed, 200-foot high bridge we all recognize today was not the original Duncan Bridge.

The original Duncan Bridge was built in 1900 standing 90 feet above the fast moving waters of the Sipsey River. The land for the bridge was donated by James “Jim” Duncan. He and his son Henry also helped with the construction.

Duncan Bridge being built in 1900

It’s purpose? To provide safe passage over the Sipsey River.

The last vehicle to ever cross the 60-year, wooden bridge was on January 4, 1961 when the State Department officially closed the ancient span and began tearing it down to make way for the more substantial and higher Duncan Bridge.

Duncan Bridge being built in 1961

It’s new purpose? To provide safe passage over the soon to be Lewis Smith Lake.

Smith Lake was to be fed primarily by water runoff from the Bankhead National Forest and it was expected to take approximately three years to fill up. This would have allowed plenty of time to build the new bridge, but Mother Nature had different plans.

In February-March of 1961, a succession of low-pressure systems from the Gulf of Mexico moved northward and produced several intense storms. This series of storms caused record-breaking floods, often referred to as the 100-year flood, filling the reservoir before the new Duncan Bridge was finished. Until the new Duncan Bridge could be completed, vehicles were transported across the river by ferry.

But Duncan Bridge is more than simply a means of carrying people from one side of the water to another.

Duncan Bridge is a more than 100-year historical landmark on Smith Lake.

The Power of Smith Lake Dam – 50 Years Later

Smith Dam in service: 09/05/61

2011 marks 50 years ago that Alabama Power created Smith Dam as a source of energy. Constructed at the Sipsey Fork tributary, it was named in honor of Lewis Martin Smith, who was president of Alabama Power from 1952 to 1957.

Today Smith Lake Dam generates an energy far beyond power.  Providing a setting for vacation homes Smith Lake is now best known for the recreational energy it offers – boating, skiing, fishing, swimming and hiking just to name a few.

What do you most appreciate about Smith Lake?

Facts about Smith Dam:

  • Type: Rock-fill
  • Length: 2,200 feet
  • Maximum height: 300 feet

Facts about Smith Lake:

  • Elevation above sea level: 510 feet
  • Area: 21,200 acres
  • Shoreline: 500 miles
  • Length: 35 miles
  • Maximum depth at dam: 264 feet
  • Area of watershed draining into reservoir: 944 square miles


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