THE MILITARY ROAD
CROSSING OF THE BAYOU METO
The area around the Bayou Meto was occupied by Native Americans until the early 19th century when the Arkansas Territory was formed in 1819. The Southwest Trail, a Native American path, crossed into the northeast section of the Arkansas Territory at the Current River and then extended southwest through what is now Pulaski County to the site of Little Rock. The Southwest Trail crossed the Bayou Meto just southwest of the future site of Jacksonville. As Arkansas was settled after 1819, this crossing became the center for a network of roads.
During the winter of 1820-1821, the Gray family from Tennessee settled in the area and began clearing the land for cultivation. Led by Jacob Gray Sr., the family consisted of four daughters and three sons. One son, Samson Gray, became prominent in the community and he built a log building to serve as his residence near the Southwest Trail. Known as the Samson Gray House, this building stood until the mid-20th century. When Pulaski County was subdivided into townships this area was named Gray Township in recognition of the Gray family.
In 1824, the United States Congress approved a survey for a road connecting Memphis, Tennessee with Little Rock. The road was designed to be part of the military road system assisting the federal government in removing Native Americans living east of the Mississippi River to lands west of Fort Smith. The following year a commission was appointed to survey the route and formulate plans for hiring contractors to build the roadbed and bridges. The roadbed was designed to extend northeast from Little Rock, cross the Bayou Meto and continue northeast passing in front of the log dwelling of Samson Gray. Samson Gray formed a partnership with two other nearby residents and submitted a bid for the construction of the Bayou Meto Bridge of 130’ in length for a cost of $710. This partnership also offered bids for the construction of several sections of the roadbed as well.
Gray’s partnership received the contract to build the bridge and sections of the road which became known as the “Military Road.” In November of 1827, Lt. Charles Thomas, assistant quartermaster and supervisor for building the road, reported that “Gray and company have opened twelve miles of the road and are now at work on the Bayou Meto Bridge.” The bridge appears to have been completed by August of 1828 when it was reported that the first mail from Memphis was transported along the completed Military Road. The Military Road attracted hundreds of settlers to the state in the late 1820s and early 1830s and Samson Gray operated a prosperous U.S Mail Route, Stagecoach stop and Public House at his residence facing the road.
John H. Reed
Reed’s Toll Bridge
Reed’s Bridge received its name from its association with John H. Reed and his wife Fredericka Reed. Following the rebuilding of the bridge in 1838, John H. Reed purchased the charter from Thomas W. Gray to establish a toll bridge and began its operation. Reed came to Pulaski County from St. Louis in 1833 and served as a clerk to the Army during the Native American removal. While living in Little Rock, Reed met Fredericka Held, a native of Germany, and they were married on October 16, 1834. After his tenure as an Army clerk ended, Reed entered the newspaper business and became co-editor of the Little Rock Times. Reed retired from the newspaper business in 1838 and he then purchased the charter to operate the Bayou Meto Bridge.
Toll Bridge Fees: Each wagon of four wheels with more than two horses, mules or oxen - 50 cents; Barouche or Phaeton with four horses - 50 cents; Each Dearborn, Carriall or other four-wheeled pleasure carriage with two horses or mules - 50 cents; Each ox cart with one yoke of oxen - 12 1/2 cents; Each additional ox or horse - 6 1/4 cents; Each mare or horse - 3 cents; Each foot passenget - 3 cents; Each head of horses, mules or asses - 6 1/4 cents; Each neat cattle - 3 cents; Each head of hogs or sheep - 2 cents.
Reed operated the bridge along with a relative, Milton J. Reed, during the early 1840s. John H. Reed and his family resided in the Samson Gray house at this time just to the north of the bridge. John H. Reed died on December 15, 1845 and was survived by his wife Fredericka and their four children. Milton Reed sold his interest in the bridge and several tracts of land to Fredericka Reed in February of 1847 and the deed included “certain structures, buildings, and bridge known as Reed’s Bridge, across the Bayou Meto, about twelve miles from Little Rock and on the road hence to Memphis, Tennessee.”
After 1847 the toll bridge across the Bayou Meto was owned and operated by Fredericka Reed. In August of 1858, an attorney employed by Mrs. Reed negotiated an extension of her charter by another ten years. He later wrote to her that “I succeed after much trouble in obtaining a charter for ten years, but the court made a reduction in the tolls though it is still a valuable privilege and will be worth at least $1,000 per annum to you.” In 1860, she was listed in the US census as owning $25,000 worth of real estate and $800 in personal property.
Fredericka Reed was the operator of the bridge when it was the scene of fighting on August 26th and 27th of 1863. During the battle, Confederate engineers tarred the bridge and set it on fire to keep the crossing out of the hands of the approaching Union forces. After the destruction of the bridge, Mrs. Reed and her daughter Jane may have operated a ferry at this site before the bridge was rebuilt. In the years following the Civil War, Fredericka Reed began to sell her property in the Gray Township. In 1867, James H. Fleming and Thomas Holland renewed the charter for Reed’s Bridge which continued to be a toll bridge although it was free and open to the citizens of the Gray, Bayou Meto and other neighboring townships. Mrs. Reed moved into Little Rock to live with her daughter Jane and her family and died on November 27, 1891.