Polk County renamed the Benton station Bridge on Monday to honor the man who donated the land to attract a railroad to the county over a century ago.
It's now the Bear Lawson Bridge, to honor William Hinton "Bear" Lawson. Polk County and Cleveland leaders were present Monday, along with a large group of Lawson's descendants for the ceremony. Lawson lived in the community from August 10, 1842 until his death June 17, 1913.
The Polk County Commission approved a resolution last October that changed the name of the bridge which crosses the Ocoee River in the Benton Station community.
Polk County Executive Hoyt Firestone and Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland were the guest speakers at the dedication.
Firestone said the L&N Railroad was seeking a safer alternate route between Atlanta and Knoxville in the early 1900s. Lawson donated approximately one mile of right-of-way through his land to keep the railroad route going through Polk County instead of Bradley County. His generosity created the community of Benton Station in 1906.
Firestone said Lawson also donated land for Benton Baptist Church in 1909.
"Without Bear Lawson we would not have Benton Station," Firestone said.
Mayor Rowland spoke on behalf on Cleveland business leader Allan Jones. An advocate for preserving local history, Jones became interested in Bear Lawson while researching his own family history. While no link was found between Lawson and Jones' family, Rowland said Jones believed Lawson had never received the recognition due to him.
Jones led an effort to recognize Lawson's generosity over a century ago, Rowland said. Mayor Rowland represented Jones who could not be present Monday. Rowland said the Tennessee Historical Commission will decide on giving state historical designation to the area.
The highlight of the morning was the unveiling of the Bear Lawson Bridge sign by young Eli Lane, a fifth generation grandson of Bear Lawson.
Members of the Cleveland High School Band were present to play the national anthem.
State Representative Dan Howell and several Polk County officials were present as well as several generation of Lawson descendants