Kestler’s Bridge was the subject of a special program of the Iredell County Genealogical Society on Tuesday, March 20, 201, at the Iredell County Public Library. The guest speaker was Jeff Howard lectured on his research into the history of Kestler’s Bridge and discussed a new book he has written titled “Kestler’s of Third Creek,’ which he donated to the library’s Local History Department collection. Tuesday night’s program is the first for the Iredell County Genealogical Society since they relocated to the Iredell County Public Library
In the late 1800s Statesville had two railroads. First was the Western North Carolina Railroad that reached Statesville from Salisbury in 1858. Statesville’s second railroad, the Atlantic Tennessee & Ohio Railroad reached Statesville in March of 1863 and it was the A. T. & O that built Kestler’s Bridge to cross Third Creek as the track came up along the South Iredell Ridge. The South Iredell Ridge is part of a larger ridge that runs from Taylorsville to Charlotte. The northern part of the ridge was known as “Mountain Road” before 1800 and is still called the “Old Mountain Road” today. Roads during this time usually followed the ridges as the bottoms were subject to flooding.
Kestler’s Bridge took nearly a year to build and Iredell County historian Homer Keever says in his book, “Iredell—Piedmont County” that tradition has it that the Italians working on the trestle at Kestler’s were responsible for introducing tomatoes to Iredell County. The “Iredell Express” reported on December 2, 1861, that one of the Irishmen had died from injuries received a week before when he fell thirty-five feet from the top of a pier, leaving his family destitute. The bridge got its name from the Kestler’s mill that used to stand near the bridge. The 1850 Census shows a sawmill and gristmill owned by John Kestler. The A. T. & O was chartered in 1852 and construction began on its tracks in 1860. Forty-seven miles of track were put down between Charlotte and Statesville.
Kestler’s Mill was located about 2 miles south of Statesville on the east bank of Third Creek. The mill was around 1000 feet upstream from where the bridge was built. It was a gristmill, sawmill, and carding mill, built sometime before 1792 by Mr. John Scroggs. The mill passed down through different owners until Moses P. Nicholson sold it to John Kestler, Sr. on February 16, 1827. It later was sold to John Lewis Kestler who with his brother James operated the mill until 1895 when it was shut down. Construction on the Kestler Bridge was completed in 1863 in the middle of the Civil War. Immediately after the track was completed to Statesville it was taken back up and the iron used to lay another track from Greensboro to Danville, Virginia so supplies could be sent to Lee’s army. After the war ended the track was put back down and soon the communities of Mooresville and Troutman sprang up along its line.
The bridge was constructed out of granite blocks, mortar and wood. The bridge itself was odd looking. The entire structure was covered by wood boards making it look like a typical covered bridge. The wooden boards along the sides were there to protect the wooden structural elements of the bridge from the weather. The tracks lay on top of the wooden bridge structure. In photos it looks as if there is a train riding on top of a covered bridge sitting on two masonry supports. The bridge was 540 feet in length and 93 feet above the water. The trestle work extended over 600 feet to near the summit of a hill. The abutments of masonry that went down into the water and supported the bridge had a span of 180 feet each. In 1910 work was begun to replace the wooden bridge with a steel bridge, with the conversion being completed in March 1911. Kestler Bridge today appears very much like it did after its conversion in 1911. It has not been used since the 1980s and the tracks have been removed from both the north and south ends of the bridge.
Joel Reese, Local History Librarian
Iredell County Public Library
This article appeared in the Statesville Record and Landmark as “New book by Jeff Howard delves into Kestler’s Bridge” on March 19, 2012