When the Cochrane Bridge/Causeway Had a Toll- And When The Toll Was Lifted

Good Book

I stumbled across some fun history in a recent trip to the Mobile Flea Market! I found a copy of the book, "Highlights of 100 Years in Mobile," published by First National Bank of Mobile to commemorate their 100th anniversary in 1965.

You can buy a copy of the book yourself on Amazon at this LINK.

As I skimmed through the book, I tripped over a story about the Cochrane Bridge, and how it and the Causeway were tolled when they first opened. The year was 1927 and the toll was one dollar per vehicle (about 14 bucks in 2019 dollars.) And I found a later story about how the toll was lifted just ten years later in 1937. The governor of Alabama in 1937 ran on an anti-toll bridge platform!

Below, I have transcribed the two brief history articles about the Cochrane Bridge/Causeway and the lifting of the toll. If you'd like to read more, you can buy the book on Amazon ( the link is above.) Or you can find the book at the Mobile Flea Market.

The detailed research and writing of what you are about to read was authored by Charles Elijah Mathews and Anderson Browne, both members of the editorial staff of the Mobile Press-Register back in 1965, and they used their newspaper files as the source for their reporting.

"1927- The Opening of the Cochrane Bridge

A dream which many generations of Mobilians long had cherished came true on June 4, 1927, when Cochrane Bridge across Mobile Bay was first opened for traffic.

Prior to completion of the bridge, the only way to reach Mobile from Baldwin County by automobile was via the old Bay boats which had served as ferries since the early days of the city. Those boats charged a minimum of $3.10 per automobile, plus 40 cents for each occupant of vehicles, and in most cases the ferry charge was even higher than the above figure.

In 13 hours on that initial day of the bridge's operation, 550 motor vehicles representing 11 states crossed the 10 and a half mile structure, spanning five rivers and described as one of the longest bridges in the world. Toll receipts (at a rate of $1 for each vehicle, plus 10 cents for each occupant other than the driver) approximated $700.

Ten days later, on June 14th, 1927, the bridge was formally dedicated and the ceremonies were attended by thousands of representatives from 10 states. Scores of persons high in public life-including Governor Bibb Graves, U.S. Senator Pat Harrison of Mississippi, Fons A Hathaway, chairman of the Florida State Highway Commission, many ALabama state legislators and others prominent in public life- saw Mrs. Graves christen the bridge by smashing a bottle of satsuma juice against the rail of the Tensaw River unit. Addressing the cheering multitude, Gov. Graves said:" As I stand here on this last link in the mighty chain binding the South and the greatest union on earth together I feel that I am speaking for more than one commonwealth. It is with pride that I accept this bridge in the name of Alabama!"

Although Gov. Graves accepted the bridge in the name of the State of Alabama, and although the State later took over the financial and management responsibility for the structure, it was not a state-financed project at the time. Cochrane Bridge originally was a private undertaking, conceived by Mobile citizens and realized through their efforts. The project actually got underway on July 1, 1925, at a mass meeting of citizens called by Mayor Harry Hartwell, and the late A.S. Towle, Sr., chairman of the Mobile County Board of Commissioners. At that meeting a committee was organized for the purpose of investigating the possibility of a bridge across the Bay. The late John T. Cochrane, Sr, president of the A.T. and N. Railroad was elected committee chairman and shortly thereafter he presented a unique and feasible plan to the Mobile Chamber of Commerce, banks and certain private citizens.

Briefly, the plan provided for organization of the Mobile Bay Bridge Company, empowered to issue bonds for financing the proposed bridge. The company organization called for seven directors- two to represent the bondholders, and five Mobilians, serving without compensation, completing the directorate. The plan further provided that when all the bonds had been redeemed, the bridge was to become the property of Mobile County.

Financing of the project was completed in November, 1925, with the sale of $2,500,00 of bridge bonds. First mortgage bonds were sold away from Mobile and second mortgage bonds were all taken by civic minded Mobilians. Bids were advertised and contracts let in 1926. It took 16 months to complete the building of the 10 and half miles of steel spans, concrete trestles and causeways linking Mobile and Baldwin Counties.

Because of his aggressive and unceasing efforts in behalf of the undertaking, the bridge was named after Mr Cochrane, who displayed characteristic modesty when, at the formal dedication ceremony, he stated simply: "We started out to build a bridge and we kept at it until we finished. There have been a few kickers, but nevertheless the achievement is strictly a community one. The bridge is now completed and speaks for itself. We must now capitalize on it and get the full benefits of its use."

1937- Cochrane Bridge Freed of Toll

On March 10, 1937, almost 10 years after Cochrane BRidge across Mobile Bay was built, the State of Alabama freed it of it toll when the Alabama Bridge Authority assumed financial and operating responsibility. Removal of the toll followed a court order from Judge Claude A. Grayson, approving sale of the bridge by Mobile Bay Bridge Co. bond holders to the state for the sum of $2,146,323.56. The sale was accomplished by the exchange of $2,145,000 of 20 year state bonds, issued by the Alabama Bridge Authority, and $1,323.56 in cash.

Sale of the bridge, to be operated toll free by the state, followed a determined effort by Governor Bibb Graves to eliminate all toll bridges in the state. Freeing of all toll bridges had been a principal plank in his platform during his campaign for governorship. When arrangements for freeing Cochrane Bridge finally had been made, Gov. Graves commented: " The last affirmative promise in my platform of two-and-one-half years ago is now an accomplished fact. That's the last toll bridge in the state."

The late John T Cochrane, chairman of the committee which originally worked out plans resulting in construction of the bridge by the private Mobile BAy Bridge Co., and for whom the bridge was named, remarked: "It is a glorious day for Mobile. The freeing of the bay bridge means so much to our citizens that its accomplishment carries glory enough to be divided among all who aided in bringing it about." "

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