You may remember the British illustrator, Martin Handford, who created a series of children’s books in 1987 with double-page detailed illustrations. Each depicted dozens or more people doing a variety of amusing things at a given location. Readers were challenged to find a character named Wally or for those of us in the US and Canada, Waldo, hidden in the group. Well I doubt Wally ever made it to Waldo, Alabama, but if he had this is where you would have found the funny looking guy with the red-and-white-striped shirt and bobble hat.
The community actually gets its name from the wife of Samuel Riddle, who was married to Maria Waldo Bradley in 1841 in Trenton, New York. In 1843 Samuel and his three brothers moved to Alabama, where they built an iron forge on Talladega Creek. They named this forge “Maria’s Forge” Here they manufactured iron from hematite ore found in several places near Talladega.
Apparently there were three mills. The first two were destroyed in floods. The mills are said to have once have been used in mining gold. There were at least seven mines in this area that operated between mid-1840 until sometime around the 1930s. The building also housed a grist mill, a blacksmith shop, a cotton gin, and a saw mill. Power for the mill was generated from an iron turbine in a water box, rather than the conventional “overshot” or “undershot” water wheel.
The Riddles also used the mill for a post office, a dance floor, political rallies and various religious activities. At one point it was even used to make wooden coffins.
I find conflicting reports on the time that the bridge was built. Most report it being built in 1858. I even read where General Wilson of Wilson Raiders stayed at the mill and used the bridge for his troops to cross the Talladega Creek during the civil war. However, if this story was true, why didn’t he burn both the multipurpose mill and the covered bridge? According to another report the bridge was built sometime just after the civil war.
The bridge was used for vehicles until the 1930’s when Alabama Hwy 77 was built and bypassed Old Socapatoy Road. This old road, or trail, is said to have been named by the Creek Indians who used it to travel to their final battle at Horseshoe Bend in 1814.
Today the bridge is privately owned and is said to be the state’s second oldest covered bridge. It was purchased in 1968 by A.M. Hocutt, a structural engineer. He purchased materials and hired the need help to make repairs to the decaying bridge, in 1972. However, sadly there are no current preservation plans for the bridge.
Cindy and I recently visited Waldo and met a couple who has just leased the old mill. They are currently renovating it with plans for opening a restaurant in July 2014. They are calling the restaurant, Riddle’s Mill. Be sure to look for their Facebook page which is coming soon. Of course, if you are ever in Waldo you will want to stop for good food and an opportunity to see this beautiful old mill and Waldo’s covered bridge.