Alabama Road Trip No. 47
Blount County: The Covered Bridge Capital of Alabama
by Verna Gates
Walking into the cool shade of a covered bridge, you can almost hear the clip-clop of horses’ hooves and the whispers of stolen kisses. The sheltered bridge hid the rushing water from the horse and the courting couple from the eyes of the world. Notice how the entrance resembles a barn – all the more to encourage a perhaps unwilling steed into the shelter of the bridge.
In the 1800s, an uncovered bridge might last 10 to 12 years, but a covered bridge – well, it just might last for more than a century. Three of Alabama’s 11 covered bridges can be found in Blount County, nestled into the curves of both roads and rivers, making this county the Covered Bridge Capital of Alabama.
All three bridges are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, with Horton Mill Bridge taking the honor of being the first Southern covered bridge to be added to the register. All have been restored to once again support car traffic – though with a single lane and a speed limit of 5 mph.
Horton, Old Easley and Swann: Bridges to a Simpler Time and Place
Thurman Horton helped build the first of the bridges to bring Sand Mountain customers to his mill and general store. Rising 70 feet, Horton Mill Bridge stands as the highest covered bridge above any U.S. waterway. The original structure was built in 1894. Forty years later, another Horton, Talmedge this time, led the construction of the bridge we see today. A 15-man crew completed the 220-foot bridge in a year and a half with lumber bought for $714. Look for the bridge five miles north of Oneonta on Alabama Highway 75.
A tin roof kept the rain from dampening the spirits of many a traveler who crossed the Old Easley Covered Bridge. The smallest and oldest of the bridges, its single span is perhaps the most picturesque. Crossing the Dub Branch of the Calvert Prong of the Black Warrior River, Old Easley was used from 1927 until 2009, when it was restored. The Tidwell family built it, Zelmer and his uncle Forrest, undoubtedly to provide a shorter path home. The bridge sits three miles west of Oneonta, 1.5 miles off U.S. 231.
The third bridge was called Swann on one side and Joy on the other, depending on which community you called home. Perched over a scenic gorge, the bridge connected the town of Cleveland to the community of Joy. The triple spans of the Swann Covered Bridge stretch 324 feet, making it the longest covered bridge in Alabama and one of the longest in the U.S. It rises 27 feet above the rocky riverbed of the Locust Fork, a tributary of the Black Warrior River. It lies one mile off Alabama Highway 79, near Cleveland.
The Covered Bridge Festival
The fourth weekend in October, Oneonta celebrates with a Covered Bridge Festival. On Saturday, vendors line the streets selling arts and crafts, homemade items and delicious festival food. Live entertainment sends toe-tapping music from the main stage through town. Friends of the Locust Fork River, a river preservation society, lead a three-hour walk along the river from Swann Bridge to Powell Falls and back. A children’s area provides plenty of play and activities.
Experience Other Area Attractions
Travel from the river gorges to the mountain overlook. Palisades Park perches atop Ebell Mountain and offers views of a deep valley and forested ridges. The 1,300-foot elevation over limestone bluffs is a popular spot for rock climbing. More than 90 routes crisscross the 60- and 70-foot drops with ratings from 5.4 to 5.12. Bouldering invites those who enjoy climbing closer to earth. Eight nature trails guide you through trees and wildflowers.
Challenge the white water in Class III and IV rapids in the scenic Locust Fork of the Black Warrior River. Want a slower pace? Fishing, tube floats and swimming holes provide fun for families. The National Park Service has placed this wild and free river in the top 2 percent of all rivers nationwide for recreational uses. Challenge races to wildflower walks invite people to enjoy this 90-mile stretch of water.
Descend beneath the earth’s surface at Rickwood Caverns to walk the miracle mile of 250-million-year-old limestone formations, complete with stalagmites, stalactites, blind cave fish and an underground pool bubbling up. The grounds offer picnic tables, hiking trails, a playground and an Olympic-size swimming pool. You can also pan for gemstones.
Also on the Alabama Covered Bridge Trail
In bordering Cullman, the Clarkson Covered Bridge built in 1904 is one of the largest covered bridges in the state. The bridge site is also a park that features picnic grounds, a dogtrot cabin, gristmill and hiking trails.
Talladega County is home to two covered bridges. The Waldo Covered Bridge was built in 1858 on the old Socapatoy trail, first used by Native Americans and then in the Civil War by Wilson’s Raiders, a Union cavalry group. The Kymulga Covered Bridge (1860) once carried travelers along Old Georgia Road, a Native American trade route. It is located at Grist Mill Park. Both bridges span scenic Talladega Creek.
The Old Union Crossing Bridge near Mentone crosses the West Fork of the Little River with a 90-foot span. The Gilliland-Reese Covered Bridge dates to 1899 and was moved to Noccalula Falls in Etowah County. Coldwater Covered Bridge was built by the hands of a former slave in 1850, making it Alabama’s oldest covered bridge. It invites visitors from the Walking Trail at Oxford Lake in Calhoun County.
In west Alabama, the Alamuchee-Bellamy Covered Bridge was built of hand-hewn heart pine and wooden pegs in 1861. It can be visited in Sumter County on the University of West Alabama campus.
Where To Stay
While the covered bridges return you to simpler times, Capps Cove Bed and Breakfast continues the 19th century theme with its quaint cabins. Escape to 20 acres of babbling brooks, lush gardens and picket fences. Take the time to walk along the creek and enjoy a fire on a stone hearth.
Where To Eat
Replacing a legendary dining favorite can be challenging, but Charlie B’s The Lunch Place (300 Sixth St. S., Oneonta; 205-274-7427) more than succeeds. Standing on hallowed restaurant ground of the old Round the Clock establishment, Charlie B’s delivers Southern fried chicken, turnip greens, black-eyed peas and its predecessor’s esteemed peanut butter pie. O’so Good BBQ (55545 Hwy. 231 N., Oneonta; 205-625-4590) serves up smoking ribs and sizzling steaks. Cafe on Main (218 Main St., Trussville; 205-655-0330) takes the traditional “meat and three” up a notch with a great meal in a charming setting.
Points of Interest
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