Not too long ago, I was wondering about a meandering stream flowing behind some buildings not far from Bel Aire Heights in Winchester, and was told it was called Wagner Creek.
When I mentioned this to Franklin County Historical Society then-President David Moore, he said it had dried up basically and once exploded.
Do what? I said. An exploding creek?
I began asking other historians about this, and Joy Gallagher, also of the FCHS, illuminated the detail a little more.
Now, I’m not sure I have my topography correct, but Wagner Creek once had a bridge over it along the Winchester-Decherd Road, now known as Old Decherd Road, just behind Hardee’s on the Boulevard.
It was called Boulevard Bridge and was erected in 1909 by the Nashville Bridge Company. The bridge was a representative, yet attractive example of a Pratt steel truss.
The most unique and significant feature of the bridge was its unusual skewed portal treatment. (See photo)
“I know that people used to dynamite in rivers to kill and get catfish,” she told me. “Wonder if that is what David meant? By the way, it was illegal, so some got caught and fined.
“The Historical Society has a book by John Malcolm Delzell, now deceased, titled ‘Before Wagner’s Creek Ran Dry,’” she added.
In 1984, the bridge was taken down, probably due to a deteriorating condition within its infrastructure, and replaced by a concrete structure you can see today. Looks like the creek still runs under Sharp Springs Road according to available maps, but ends up in Murray Lake rather than somewhere in Decherd.
As I crossed over the “new” bridge recently, it definitely looked like the Wagner Creek bed was dry, but you could follow its route by observing the trees grown up on its old banks as it used to edge its way toward and around Decherd.
Mr. Delzell’s book is available in the Historical Society’s section of the Library, either $25 to purchase, or you can peruse it at one of the tables in there. Seems the author grew up on the banks of the Wagner Creek, swam in its several swimming pools, fished there and used it for a lot of other things.
“Wagner Creek wound its way through the everyday lives of the people,” he writes, “Much as it wound its way through the countryside.”
In its heyday, the creek was nine miles long, stretching from Boiling Fork and Sharp Springs into and around the Decherd community.
I cannot help but wonder what other geological features exist within the county which have dried, overgrown, or otherwise been forgotten. Professor Gerald Smith, retired from the University of the South, is also a historian and probably knows a lot of these places.
As to the exploding creek, from Mr. Delzell’s accounts, I have no doubt someone at sometime used the shortcut method of catching fish as described by Mrs. Gallagher, using a firecracker or a stick of dynamite to quickly cause those fish to float to the surface and be hauled into the boat.
As the late comedian Jerry Clower would joke, “If the game warden catches up with you and tells you it’s against the law, just hand him a stick of that dynamite already lit and ask, ‘Are you gonna argue, or fish!’”
Award-winning columnist Alan Clark’s editorials are available as podcasts on Apple Music.