A grand old celebration for the ‘Queen of the Doe’

Published 8:31 am Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Elizabethton’s grand old bridge — the Historic Covered Bridge in downtown Elizabethton — is being celebrated this week with music, festival food, arts and crafts. The festival will get underway Thursday and continue through Saturday. It promises to be a fun time for both homefolks and tourists.
Elizabethton’s Covered Bridge is perhaps one of the best known landmarks in the city and no doubt is the most photographed. It was built in 1882 as the principal means to cross the Doe River.
Through the years it has withstood floods, vandals, and the wear and tear of age of Mother Nature. It is included on the National Registry of Historic Sites and is identified by a Tennessee Historical Marker, making it rather unique, if not special.
The Covered Bridge is believed to be the oldest such bridge that is still in use by pedestrians. Constructed in 1882 at a cost of $3,000, it spans the river for 134 feet, resting on limestone abutment. The original structure was made entirely of wood; mainly mountain oak and white pine beams that were hauled down the steep slopes of the mountains by draft horses and mules. The weatherboard was of mountain polar and the shingles were made from chestnut wood. Hand forged steel spikes and hand threaded bolts fastened together the massive pieces of oak flooring. The contractor for the project was Dr. E.E. Hunter, who lived nearby.
The engineer for the bridge was Col. Thomas Matson, who had designed the elevated railroad in New York City. Col Matson had also been an engineer for the Tweetsie Railroad and designed the Covered Bridges on its route. The old bridge dubbed “the Queen of the Doe” is an engineering feat and is listed in the Historic Engineering Record.
Embodying a simpler time in American life, wooded covered bridges like Elizabethton’s began springing up across the country in the early 1800s. You’ll find them in state and national parks, amid the rolling hills of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, and in popular leaf-peeping corners of New England. But to find one in a small Tennessee town is quite amazing.
The structures are often referred to as “kissing bridges,” since the enclosed domes provide lovers with just the right amount of privacy. Yet it was practicality that inspired their construction. Covered bridges made it possible to cross rivers, lakes, and valleys with horse-drawn carriages (often agitated by rushing water) and, before the advent of air-conditioning, they provided local residents a cool break from summer heat.
Although Elizabethton’s bridge has been threatened in the past by two disastrous floods — in 1901 and again in 1998 — it still stands and with its charm and mystique draws a myriad of visitors to its site each day. It is unknown how many covered bridges were built in Tennessee, but today in the U.S., less than a thousand covered bridges remain. And like Elizabethton’s Covered Bridge, most are over 100 years old.
Our Covered Bridge is beautiful and an important piece of our town’s history. It tells us much about our past. Hopefully, it will be around for a long time for us to celebrate.

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