In 1965, as I.J. Scott, Sr., founder of Scott Bridge Company, Inc. was planning his retirement, he recruited Jerry Swarthout to move to Alabama and take on the day to day leadership of the company. Scott Bridge had a reputation of building river bridges and with Jerry’s engineering expertise and management style, the company continued this tradition and took on even more engineering intensive projects in the years to come, a legacy that continues today.
Born in 1922 in the Panama Canal Zone where his father was stationed in the Army, Jerry grew up in the Atlanta, Georgia area. He graduated from Technological High School and continued his education at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Like the majority of students during that era his education was interrupted by World War II. He served in the U.S. Army Signal Corps for three years. It was during this time that he met and later married his wife, Evelyn “Pres” Presler who was in the Women’s Army Corp. Jerry would later serve in the Georgia National Guard as an Assistant Adjutant General and was discharged in the early 50,s with the rank of Captain They returned to Atlanta after the War and Jerry completed his education at Georgia Tech graduating in 1947 with a degree in Civil Engineering under the Co-Operative Plan, a designation he was always proud of. He was a member of Tau Beta Pi engineering honorary and Chi Epsilon civil engineering honorary.
Jerry began his working career with the Georgia Highway Department working his way from Project Engineer to District Engineer. In 1954 he left the Highway Department and joined Scott Construction Company of Thomasville, Georgia as an engineer and estimator. He left in 1957 and worked in the contracting industry in Georgia as an engineer, estimator, and superintendent until joining Scott Bridge in 1965 as Chief Engineer. He became Executive Vice President and a stockholder in 1969 and retired as President of the company in 1987.
Above all else, Jerry was an engineer and this expertise allowed Scott Bridge to take on many complex construction projects that were normally reserved for much larger contracting companies.
Some of these projects were:
- AL Highway 63 Bridge at Kowaliga on Lake Martin. This project included the design and construction of single wall sheet pile cofferdams in water depths exceeding 100 feet. At the time these were believed to be the deepest cofferdams of this type constructed in the United States.
- Construction of the cofferdam piers for the Tennessee River crossing at Guntersville, several Warrior River projects in Jefferson and Walker Counties, Alabama River I-65 crossing at Montgomery and other Alabama River projects in Selma and Pine Hill.
- Bridge raising projects on the Tallapoosa River at Wedowee and the Coosa River at Riverside, Alabama.
During the 1970’s as work became more competitive, Jerry led the company in branching out to work in adjoining states as well as with the construction of railroad bridges. Once again with the solid foundation of construction that Scott Bridge had they were able to successfully build and complete many highly engineered railroad bridge replacements under traffic. It was during this time that the company bid and successfully completed the 6000 foot L&N railroad crossing of Biloxi Bay as well as managing the L &N Tennessee River crossing at Decatur, Alabama. Under his leadership they also began an ongoing relationship with the railroad industry as an emergency bridge repair/replacement contractor.
Jerry was a registered Professional Engineer in Alabama and Georgia as well as a registered Professional Land Surveyor in Georgia. Although his attention to detail made him an excellent design engineer, he considered himself more of a constructor’s engineer making sure that whatever he designed could be built in a practical manner by the company field personnel whose ideas he valued greatly.
While leading a growing construction company, Jerry also found time to work as an advocate for the road building industry in Alabama alongside fellow members of the Alabama Road Builders Association. He served many years as a Director of the Association and was elected President in 1974. During this time the Association became more involved politically with supporting legislation to enhance the transportation infrastructure of the state. Jerry was active in the Alabama Citizens for Transportation which promoted a comprehensive highway plan for the state. He was also involved with efforts to hold regional meetings with Highway Department personnel and contractors. On a national level he served several years on the Contractors Division Board of the American Road Builders Association and as President of the Contractors Division in 1982. He also served on the American Road Builders Association Board from 1980 to 1983.
Always interested in passing knowledge on to younger generations, Jerry participated for several years in the ARBA sponsored guest lecturer program with Auburn University’s Department of Civil Engineering.
After his retirement from Scott Bridge Company in 1987, he remained active as a consulting engineer for several years. On a local civic level, Jerry served on the Opelika Water Board from 1984 until 1998, the last three years of which were as President of the Board. During this time the Water Board completed a major distribution project, the new treatment facility on Lake Harding as well as negotiations with the Retirement Systems of Alabama on the construction of Grand National Golf Course in Opelika’s Saugahatchee Lake reservoir. He was a long time member of the Opelika Kiwanis Club and served as a Director for several years.
After retirement he also served as a tutor with the Lee County Literacy Coalition and as a volunteer at East Alabama Medical Center. Always active in the Episcopal Church, over the years he served in every local church office as well as being a lay reader in the church.
Jerry Swarthout passed away on October 7, 2004. He was preceded in death by his wife of 57 years, Pres. They had two children, a daughter, Edith and son, Jack.