Late fall is a great time to get outside and reconnect with history – especially history of the covered bridge sort. Yes, we’re going to visit some covered bridges!
At this point, you probably expect me to write emotively about historical ambience and days gone by and all that. But I’m in a practical mood today, so let’s cut right to the chase and ask the key question: Why were these bridges covered?
My friend the farmer says it was because horses and mules didn’t like crossing open bridges.
My dad the civil engineer says it was to protect the bridges’ structural elements from the weather.
Or maybe — and this is my favorite — it’s like my wife’s grandmother once said. I remember her words, spoken decades ago at her kitchen table while we ate fresh-from-the-oven peach cobbler.
“They’re covered because a covered bridge provides…well…a little privacy,” she said. Yeah, they’re not known as “kissin’ bridges” for nothing. I can affirm that myself, possibly from personal experience.
Not surprisingly, covered bridges often seem to surround themselves with legend and lore. You’ll hear that if a young woman makes a chain of clover and strings it across the entrance to the bridge, the first person to break the chain will be her one true love. You’ll also hear that if you drop a penny through the gaps between the deck planks and make a wish before it hits the water, then your wish will come true.
These days, only a few historic covered bridges remain in Georgia. Fortunately, some of them are close by. To get started, here’s a look at three nearby historic covered bridges that I particularly enjoy. I think you’ll enjoy them too. There’s something a little bit magical about each of them, and that’s all it takes to capture the imagination of an incurable romantic like me.
Poole’s Mill Covered Bridge
The Poole’s Mill covered bridge in Forsyth County is on land where, in the early 1820s, Cherokee Chief George Welch operated a grist mill. In subsequent years, the land went through several owners and was eventually acquired by Dr. M. L. Pool.
The first bridge at the site was an uncovered bridge that washed away in 1899. In its place came a new structure – a 96-foot-long covered bridge – constructed in 1901. That new bridge was held together with wooden pegs called trunnels. The holes for the pegs were drilled on-site, but the builders soon discovered that many of the holes were in the wrong places. Rumor has it that the man who mis-drilled all those holes quickly left the area…taking with him a gallon of corn whiskey!
That’s a great story. It may even be true. In any case, the holes were soon re-drilled (under the watchful eye of a new and presumably more sober supervisor) and the bridge was finally finished. But you can still see the misplaced holes.
Like many covered bridges, this one eventually began to show its age. It might have disappeared altogether but for a restoration effort in the 1990s, which not only saved the bridge but also set the stage for what’s now Poole’s Mill Park. This park features a children’s playground, swings, short walking trails and picnic tables (with grills) near the creek. There’s also a large covered picnic pavilion (with restroom facilities) that can be reserved. It’s popular year round – and when warmer weather returns, you’ll see kids of all ages enjoying the well-known sliding rocks located just downstream from the bridge.
Poole’s Mill Park is at 7725 Poole’s Mill Road. From Ga. 400, take Georgia 20 west to Heardsville Road. Go right (north) on Heardsville Road for about 4 miles to Poole’s Mill Road, on your right. The park is at the corner of Poole’s Mill and Heardsville roads.
Concord Covered Bridge
Is it still possible to drive through an historic covered bridge? Yes, and the closest opportunity is on Concord Road, which crosses Nickajack Creek via the single-lane Concord Covered Bridge near Smyrna. Though the nearby East-West Connector has reduced the number of vehicles crossing the bridge, estimates are that from 7,000 to 10,000 motorists still use this bridge each week as they travel between Mableton and Smyrna.
The Concord Bridge, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is the centerpiece of the Concord Covered Bridge Historic District. Historians say that there has been some sort of bridge there since the 1840s.
The present bridge was constructed in 1891 and has carried traffic ever since. A number of renovations over the years have helped it survive, though its low overhead clearance makes it prone to damage from over-height trucks. Warning signs alerted motorists to the low clearance, and in 2009, steel “headache beams” were installed at each end of the bridge in an effort to stop too-tall vehicles before they hit the bridge. But Concord Bridge still suffered impacts about once a month, on average. Those impacts took a toll on the venerable old structure, and by 2016, it was clear that significant rehabilitation was needed if the bridge was to be saved.
The most recent round of rehab work began in summer 2017 and was completed late last year. Today, following completion of that award-winning rehab project, the bridge has a new lease on life (as well as a better over-height warning system).
Unfortunately, there’s no parking at the bridge. The land around it is private. However, there’s parking about a quarter-mile away off Concord Road at the entrance to the Silver Comet Trail.
The Concord Covered Bridge, which crosses Nickajack Creek, is on Concord Road SW in Cobb County near the East-West Connector and the Silver Comet Trail. Note that the surrounding land is private and there is no public parking at the bridge.
Stovall Mill Bridge
I’m sometimes asked, “What’s your favorite covered bridge?” It’s hard to pick just one, but the short list would definitely include Stovall Mill Bridge across Chickamauga Creek in White County, near the town of Helen.
With a length of just 33 feet, the Stovall Mill Bridge is the shortest covered bridge in Georgia. It was constructed in 1895 and is named for Fred Stovall, who owned the water-powered mill complex nearby. It’s actually the second covered bridge at the site; the first one, built in the late 1800s, washed away in a flood.
Now open only to foot traffic, Stovall Mill Bridge has several claims to fame. Film buffs, for instance, point out that it was featured in the 1951 movie “I’d Climb the Highest Mountain,” starring Susan Hayward and William Lundigan.
The thing you hear most often, though, is that the bridge is haunted.
“You cross that bridge after dark,” one area resident said to me, “and you’ll hear babies crying. And horse-drawn buggies, too, creaking while they cross over. You ever heard ‘em?”
I have not – but then I’ve only been there during the light of day.
Decades ago, when I first saw this bridge, it was shaded by an enormous tree. I remember taking a few pictures. How I wish I could find those negatives!. Nowadays, the tree is gone…and the bridge’s interior has morphed into a gallery of graffiti.
Why do some folks feel a compulsion to write things on old historic structures? Beats me. Somebody once called it part of the “new urban ecosystem,” whatever that means. But I like the old graffiti-free ecosystem just fine.
Still, it’s intriguing to read what graffiti writers write. You learn things when you do. On a recent visit to this bridge, for example, I learned that John C. loves Susan M., or at least he did once upon a time. I wonder if they made it? Did their affection survive? Maybe. Maybe not.
And yet the bridge that immortalizes them is doing okay even after all these years, missing trees (and unfettered graffiti) notwithstanding.
The Stovall Mill Covered Bridge crosses Chickamauga Creek in White County near the town of Helen. It’s the centerpiece of a small roadside park and lies just south of the modern Ga. 255 bridge over the creek, 2.7 miles from the intersection of Ga. 255 and Ga. 17.