Roswell, Georgia has recently added a new covered bridge, which sparked our interest in the old covered bridges that once dotted North Georgia's landscape. These bridges are viewed as a romantic look at America's past and inevitably lead to the question "Why were bridges covered?" Its a good question, since railroad bridges (which came later than the first covered bridges) were not. Answers include:
Making the bridge look more like a barn to fool horses into crossing.
Protect the road from various weather (snow, rain, ice).
Protect travelers from the elements
Prevent the bridge from rotting
So why were bridges covered? Well, a roof adds stability to a structure. It also protects the bridge (and not just the exposed tops of posts or the flooring but the entire structure). The weight of the cover increased a bridge's likelihood of staying in place in spite of being flooded by rushing water, and if it did get washed downstream a covered bridge was more likely to be found in one piece than an uncovered bridge. Lastly, because a cover increased a bridge's stability, longer bridges could be built. Frugal citizens learned from experience: covered bridges simply lasted longer that uncovered ones.
According to covered bridge historian Raymond W. Smith, New York State Office of Parks, the first covered bridge in America spanned the Hudson River in that state and was completed in 1804 at Waterford. It lasted more than century before it burned in 1909. Architect Ithiel Town created the "Town Lattice" truss in 1820, which greatly improved the strength of the covered bridge by using timbers in a crisscross design. In the 1830's Stephen Long, who is known to Georgians as the first man to oversee the building of the Western and Atlantic Railroad, reinforced the diagonal truss design with a rigid "Kingpost."
Horace King learned how to build "Town Lattice" covered bridges as a slave. Even before the Civil War this black man was frequently called in to oversee construction of the bridges. Born in South Carolina of mixed blood parents, King moved to Columbus, where he helped build the first town lattice bridge in Georgia. King also taught the trade to his son, W. W. King. While many examples of W. W. 's work remain in the state, only one original Horace King bridge still exists, in Meriwether County.
Covered Bridge in Stone Mountain Park
Our tour of the North Georgia covered bridges begins in Stone Mountain Park, home to the largest bas relief carving in the world. Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson adorn the face of the mountain made of granite. The covered bridge, which is down the road past the Carving at Stone Mountain, spans man-made Stone Mountain Lake to a central island, but before 1965 the bridge served as an important link for Athens spanning the Oconee River at College Avenue, which at one time carried the traffic of Old Highway 441.
A new bridge, Haralson Mill Covered Bridge in Rockdale County replaced a ford across Mill Rock Creek that was being flooded for a new lake. The bridge is constructed in the town lattice design. Elder's Mill bridge, located in Oconee County, once spanned the Watkinsville-Athens Road but was moved to its present site in 1924. Built in 1897 of Town Lattice design this bridge is also known as the Rose Creek bridge for the river it spans. It served a local mill and is one of the few bridges that permits vehicular traffic.
The two bridges that are closest together are Watson Mill bridge and Big Clouds, which is today known as Howard's Bridge. Big Clouds (named for the creek that runs below the bridge) spans 168 feet and is located in a remote are of Oglethorpe County. The bridge was neglected until 1998, so vehicular traffic is not allowed. It may have been built by Washington King although the builder is listed as Pink Hunt. Watson Mill Bridge has been preserved by the state of Georgia. The surrounding Watson Mill State Park includes many activities and the bridge is probably the most picturesque in the state. The bridge is named for Gabriel Watson, a local entrepreneur who owned a nearby mill, spans 226 feet and is in its original location.
Heading north to State Road 106 in Franklin County, Cromer's bridge was built by Pink Hunt and crosses Nails Creek not far from I-85. Like Watson Mill Bridge, Cromer's was built near a mill where a small community existed. In 1999 local leaders completed a preservation project that almost completely rebuilt the bridge. Vehicular traffic is not allowed on the 132-foot bridge. North of I-85 near the small town of Lula (Banks County) is the shortest covered bridge in the state, and maybe the world. The 34-foot Lula Covered Bridge sits near the modern recreation of the highway it once served, Antioch Church Road, which connects GA 51 and GA 52. Built of kingpost trusses the bridge is on private property and not open to vehicular traffic.
Stovall Covered Bridge is the furthest north of all north Georgia covered bridges and is located east of the popular tourist town of Helen, Georgia in the Nachoochee Valley. It spans one of two Chickamauga Creeks in north Georgia (the other Chickamauga Creek, in northwest Georgia, gives it name to bloodiest two days in American history, the Battle of Chickamauga. Of queenspost truss design, the bridge has a variety of names including the Helen Bridge, Sautee Bridge, Nacoochee Bridge and Chickamauga Bridge. White County has added a small parking area and park near the structure. Fred Dover built the structure, then sold it and his grist mill to Fred Stovall, Jr. The bridge served as a link on the Cleveland to Clayton Road, which ran through the Sautee-Nachoochee Valley and was featured in the movie I'd Climb the Highest Mountain starring Rory Calhoun, William Lundigan and Susan Haywood.
Pooles Mill before restoration
Forsyth County's Poole's Mill Bridge was built on land taken illegally from the Cherokee Indians in 1835. The original owner, a Cherokee named George Welch built a local mill in the early 1820's. He lost the land in the Sixth Georgia Land Lottery in 1832. Jacob Scudder, who may have been Welch's brother -in-law brought the land from the winner and continued running a small area of businesses known as Scudder's. Much of the mill's output went to feed the people who lived there. Poole bought the mill from Scudder's estate, added a cotton mill and ran it until 1947. The bridge, on Settindown Creek, allowed access to the Old Federal Highway, the village of Scudder's (now gone) and a group of miners on the Etowah River. The 94-foot bridge is located in a county park, with plenty of parking, picnic tables and a playground.
In Euharlee, west of Cartersville, the Euharlee Covered Bridge spans Euharlee Creek, and is the only covered bridge in north Georgia to have a museum (open 12-5, Monday-Friday). Built in 1886 it is possible that Horace King visited his son, W. W. King while he was building the structure, but it was built by his son. Near the 137-foot bridge is a grassy area great to bring the kids and a general store and restaurant.
Concord Bridge originally built in 1872 was completely rebuilt in the 1970's. It is near the site of the Battle of Ruff's Mill, which is adjacent to the bridge on the north side of Nickajack Creek. A couple of hundred yards north of the bridge is an entrance to the Silver Comet Trail. The 131-foot bridge is queen's rod design and was named for a nearby woolen mill (Ruff's Mill was a grist mill).
Covered Bridge at Roswell Mill
Roswell, Georgia is home to the newest covered bridge in the state. It is a beautiful structure built from Douglas Fir harvested in the Northwest United States. The span is 161 feet and joins the Vickery Creek Unit of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area to Old Roswell Mill, a short historic hike to the mill destroyed by General William Tecumseh Sherman during the Atlanta Campaign. Later rebuilt, the mill ran until 1971, when it was abandoned. Roswell has a strong tradition as a great hiking town and this addition makes Vickery Creek much more accessible to hikers.