In 1858, merchant and land developer Nelson Tift hired Horace King, and African American architect, to build a toll bridge across the Flint River. The watch house now serves as a heritage and welcome center for the city that features exhibits that trace the history of Albany and the region.
The Albany Bridge Welcome Center stands on historic Front Street. The structure was built and designed as a toll house by Harace King, an African American architect and engineer. King was born into slavery in South Carolina in 1807 and learned the building trades as a young man whose labor enriched his owners. In 1832, King designed and built a 560-foot bridge across the Chattahoochee River that led to the enslaved architect being regarded as one of the leading bridge builders of the South. King's owner recognized that it was in his interest to provide motivation for King to continue these projects. Throughout the next two decades, King earned a small commission from his work until his owner agreed to allow King to purchase his freedom.
The idea for the bridge came about sometime between the years of 1857 and 1858 when the founder of Albany, Colonel Nelson Tift, decided to create a toll bridge. In 1858, the Alabama Legislature acknowledged King's talents with a special law granting him the freedom to contract his own labor.
King constructed the archway that served as the entrance to the bridge that was controlled by a bridge keeper who occupied this structure On the other side of the bridge was a small theater known as Tift's Hall. The building was used for storage during the Civil War while the land near the structure held livestock pens. Hundreds, thousands of cattle, sheep, and hogs were pickled then barreled for use by the Confederate Navy.