Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Exploring the Old Covered Bridges and Other Sites in Blount County Alabama

One of the little thought about elements of America is it's rich history, even on a local level in your own town, city, or community. Such is the case in a small area of Alabama called Blount County. Located in the central part of Alabama, this area has something that few places in America can brag about. It's very old covered bridges. In fact, it has the United States tallest covered bridge over water.

 The very first question that comes out when you mention "covered bridges" is this: "Why would you cover a bridge?" The reason is simple if you lived 100 years ago. Strange if you live in the 21st century. The reason they were coverd was to protect the wooden structure from decaying or breaking down as fast. After all, they were primarily built of wood that goes down with time. Early wooden bridges had a lifespan of about 10-15 years if left uncovered. If you have worked 3-7 years building a bridge, then it does not last long in terms of the energy and time spent to built it verses the years it will last! Thus, the covered bridges came about. It is easier to replace lumber on the covered structure than to replace critical timber underneath it. This also provided protection from storms for those on horse and buggy. After all, it would be a muddy, messy road during storms. Why not take cover under a covered bridge?

In Blount county, Alabama, at one time (according to my good friend Brett that showed us around his county that day) there were 12 covered bridges. They are now down to 3 still standing. Floods, arson, vandals, and a number of factors have taken there toll.  Of those 3 left, there are all built in 1927-1934. If you ever want to do something interesting and you might live within driving distance  of these amazing structures, I encourage you to take the time and drive over and see some living history. If you are passing through Alabama, then put it on your list "to do".

One weekend, one of my camping buddies named Brett called and asked me and other friends to come down and stay at his house. My other buddy Thomas and I responded and said we are coming! Since we are all "outdoors guys" and that is what we all do when we get together, it is only fitting that like a bunch of "boys", we camp in his back yard filled with woods! We arrive one Friday afternoon at Brett's house. He and his wife have the red carpet laid out for us in terms of food and accommodations. A large 15 foot high fire place is located in the woods behind his house that Brett built, so we set up our hammocks out in the woods by the fireplace. We cook hot dogs and hamburgers Friday afternoon/evening just shortly after arrival, stay up late and enjoy conversations by the fireplace, and then hit the bed in our hammocks for rest.

 Horton Mill Bridge

A full day is in store for us on Saturday. After a quick shower, we are off to our first covered bridge to see, Horton Mill bridge, located on Highway 75. It is right off the highway and signs will keep you from missing it. The Horton Mill bridge is the tallest covered bridge over water in the United States. Built in 1934, it spans 220 feet long, and 70 feet high above the Calvert Prong of the Little Warrior River. After seeing one of these bridges for the first time, I observe something interesting. Construction on this bridge, and later seeing the other 2 are all the same. In fact, after seeing the oldest covered bridge in California back in 2007 on a video shoot for the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, it and all of these are built the exact same way. They all have iron rods that extend down from the covered structure that supports the main foundation of the bridge. Sounds kind of silly to notice small things like that, but interesting to me and perhaps some others on how they all were built by the same style of construction. Truth be told, that construction practice probably dates back to Europe when the early settlers came over.

 We walk all around the bridge, under the bridge, and across the bridge. We snap pictures and shoot video of just about every angle you can see of it. A trail leads you down to the creek where you can walk up underneath it before it spans out over the water. Boring to some, fascinating to others. I enjoyed every second of it myself. According to history, this bridge was built by 15 men, working from sun up to sun down, supervised by Talmedge Horton. His crew also built the other two bridges we will visit. According to history, Mr. Horton had to ride on horseback to Birmingham, Alabama to receive payment for the bridge. When he got there, he apparently was paid in silver. The weight of the silver riding back to Blount County took a toll on his horses, with the hides being rubbed raw from reading history on this bridge.

Driving over these bridges in your car is an experience as well. If you roll the windows down and drive across, you are treated with a "pop" and "crack" sound every now and then from the wood in the bridge. It is a little "un-nerving" listening to these sounds as you drive across!

The address of the bridge is:
25 Covered Bridge Circle, Oneonta, Alabama, 35121

Palisades Park

After we finish up there we move on over to a special park that few counties have. It is one of the coolest county parks I have seen. I have traveled in many states, but few can claim as cool of a place as Palisades Park. On the internet it is termed "Blount County's Best Kept Secret", and it truly is! My good friend Brett carried us there and I was truly surprised at everything I saw, and in every direction!
What was in my mind, a simple county park we were driving to, turned out to be worth every second of being there. The park is located at about 1,300 feet in elevation. It has the usual swing sets, old log cabins donated and moved there by family members, meeting cabins and buildings to hold most any event, a very old 150 foot U.S. Forest Tower that we had to climb, massive bluffs for the rope recreation folks to practice on, hiking trails, picnic areas, and more. The old forest tower is off limits to climbing, but on this day, the gate was wide open. We just had to check it out. The Forest Tower truly is an historical monument as well. Almost all have been abandoned by the U.S. Forest Service, so that decay away each day. I have read where there is great debate on these structures. The Forest Service does not know what to do with them. They want them torn down, but other folks see a different picture. They want them preserved. The debate continues as these old historical structures decay every day in time.
 At any rate, I was totally set back by the views of this park and you can see when you arrive that it has something for everyone, young and old.
If you can, make sure and take the time to drive to this park.! The views are stunning. Make sure you go over to Meditation Point (see picture below) and absorb the view. Hopefully you will go on a sunny day as we did. You can see for almost 50 miles.

The address for your GPS to get there is: 1225 Palisades Pkwy, Oneonta, AL 35121

Swann Bridge

It was hard to leave such a really neat place as Palisades Park, but time to go see the other highlights of this county before the sun goes down. We head over to another amazing and very old bridge, Swann Bridge. It is the longest surviving bridge in Alabama. It was built in 1933, and is 330 feet long. It spans over Locust Fork. We drive across the bridge with the usually creepy "creaks and pops" of driving over a covered bridge in a modern heavy vehicle and park. As we saw at Horton Bridge earlier, there is always cars parked and people admiring the bridges. In fact, I see some of the same people we saw over at the other bridges, all of us making the circuit.  Again, I notice the same construction type as the first bridge, and the covered bridge I have seen out in California that is said to have been built just after the Civil War. Again, I image construction practices were just about the same across the U.S., even during those times. Swann Bridge, make this your 3rd stop on your tour in Blount County. My good friend Brett grew up and around all of this since he is from Blount County and I was so glad he offered us this tour. More to see, so let's move on!


The directions to get to Swann Bridge are: From U.S. Highway 231 in Cleveland, head west on State Highway 160 for 2.8 miles to Nectar Circle. Turn right (north) on Nectar Circle for half of a mile and then turn right (north) on Joy Road. Follow Joy Road north for 2.4 miles and then turn right (east) on Swann Bridge Road. Just follow Swann Bridge Road for 1.5 miles until you reach the historic bridge.

The address is: 1590 Swann Bridge Road, Cleveland, Alabama, 35049

Easley Bridge
Our last stop for the day before supper, is the third covered bridge in the county, Easley Bridge. 
It is the oldest of the three. Built in 1927, it spans 95 feet and is the shortest bridge. 
It stretches over a small stream called Dub Branch, which feeds the Little Warrior River. This bridge was the least scenic of the three in my opinion, but it's beauty is in the age. The bridges have all undergone reconstruction in 2011 as vandals, weather, age, and time had put them all out of commission at various times. During some of those years, no vehicle traffic was allowed.  This bridge, be it small, is still worth stopping to see, if not for anything but to say that you have seen all 3 very old covered bridges in Blount County, Alabama. It is not that much further out of the way and deserves to be admired.

The address of the Easly Bridge is: 
440 Easly Bridge Road, Oneonta, Alabama 35121


To Top Off The Day
A great way to top the day off for us, and it will be for you as well, is to stop by and eat at a Bar-B-Que restaurant called "O'so Good" Barbeque restaurant. It is located on U.S. 231. Their address is 55545, U.S. Highway 231, Oneonta, Alabama. They did not pay me a dime to pitch them, but they have some good Barbeque to top off the end of a wonderful day in Blount County, Alabama. 
It has a great atmosphere to relax, eat, and talk about the sites of the day. 

The next day on our "boy's trip" yielded an even greater surprise, but I cannot publish it, since it was on private property and I respect that. It was a view into a world of an old Indian community site, and man what a day! It just continued to make the weekend one I will not forget for a long time. 
Enough teasing you with that, since I cannot publish that experience, so I leave you with a view into the history of time in a county older than the State of Alabama. If you are in this area, I strongly suggest you devote a day to seeing some sites you will never forget, and a day you will talk about for a long time.  Until the next adventure in God's country, we will see you then!

A great map of the bridges and how to get to them is located at the website address below. 
 It is a PDF map of the bridges: