Building more than bridges

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By Norma
Kirkpatrick
Opelika Observer

I. J. Scott was born in 1904 in Rockdale, Ga.  His career began with Brooks-Calloway Co. as an Atlanta Railroad Contractor.  In 1925, his work brought him through Opelika, where he met and married the most beautiful woman he had ever seen: Miss Frances Morgan. He not only chose her, but also took her hometown of Opelika as his own. He and Frances lived in Opelika until I.J.’s death in 1984.
The Scott Bridge Company of Opelika has roots that extend back to 1933, when Scott formed Scott Construction Company with two partners in Thomasville, Ga.  The company engaged in the construction of highways, airports, bridges and dams throughout the Southeast. Scott left that group in 1957 to form his own company, The Scott Bridge Company in Opelika. Scott Bridge, as the name implies, specialized in bridge construction.
They incorporated the business in 1965 as Scott Bridge Company, Inc., with Scott as president and his son; I. J. Scott, Jr., serving as Treasurer.  In the same year, Gerard Swarthout joined the company; Swarthout later became company President. Currently,  Scott’s grandsons, I. J. Scott, III (Ike) and William Scott, are president and vice-president; Michael Terrell is senior vice-president and Chuck Davis is vice-president of engineering.
Known for their expertise in building deep water cofferdams in construction of bridges over water, Scott Bridge Company completed many projects on the Alabama, Coosa, Warrior, Chattahoochee and Tennessee rivers.  In 1972, when they built the Kowliga Bridge over Lake Martin near Alexander City, it included the deepest cofferdams ever built in the United States.
Scott Bridge built the Interstate 85 twin bridges across the Chattahoochee River in Lanett. The company also built the 5,000-foot Hathaway Bridge between Panama City, Fla. and Panama City Beach. Scott engineers had to coordinate part of this bridge construction with tide schedules for floating bridge piers into place.
Scott’s middle name was Judson, sometimes abbreviated to “Jud.”  Through the years, employees and friends began to call him “Cap’n Jud”.  One of his legendary skills was the uncanny ability to draw up a winning bid on a project.  Captain Jud would arrive the day before contractors usually met at a hotel for the opening of bids.  He figured everything in his head; added in profit; and went back home.  He knew what a good job would cost, or should cost. When the other contractors didn’t see him there that day, they knew he was going to get the job. Engineers were amazed at the way he could simply work up a bid, coming up with exactly what it should be; while they spent hours with all of the latest equipment to come to a conclusion. Though he officially retired in 1975, Scott kept going to the job early; watching the employees as they arrived for work .
A true patriot, Scott cared about America, the state of Alabama and especially the area where he lived.  He gave of himself and his means in many ways, such as to Harvest Ministries and other benevolent organizations. Mr. and Mrs. Scott attended the First Baptist Church for more than 50 years, where the beautiful, lighted steeple they gave to the church is still a reminder of their faith and the importance the church held in their lives. When the church was updating and replacing pews, a family member bought the pew where the Scotts had sat for 50 years.  It is now in the Scott Bridge Company corporate office on Interstate Drive in Opelika. At a deacon’s meeting in 1959, Scott donated land and some money to build “a Christian church” on the north side of Opelika. That donation evolved into today’s Korean Baptist Church.
Scott worked diligently to improve the infrastructure of Alabama and was a Democratic Elector to two National Conventions; 1964 and 1968.  He was a co-founder of  Scott Preparatory School, now known as Lee-Scott Academy.  It is presently one of the leading independent schools in the state of Alabama.
It was the desire of Scott’s heart that his children and grandchildren continue to carry the business forward through the generations.  The family of the founder has continued to maintain the principles, traditions and ideals that were set before them.  One of the family members aptly expressed that he considered it “a blessing to be part of a vanishing breed; the family company.”
Known for his high standard of integrity; his word was his bond, and the company I. J. Scott established has continued uninterrupted for 82 years.  He was, and is, rightfully appreciated for all of his accomplishments and good works.  In 1975, he was named “Distinguished Citizen of the Year” by the city of Opelika.  He was inducted into Alabama Roadbuilders Hall of Fame posthumously in 2008.  His rich legacy stands throughout the Southeast in the solid form of highways, airports, bridges and dams.  It stands in living form in the lives of the many people he helped and equipped for a better life.  It has been, and is still reflected in the lives of his descendants; proving true that the good deeds done while we are alive will continue to echo into the future.

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