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Getting better with age… Elizabethton’s Covered Bridge recently celebrates its 139th birthday

BY IVAN SANDERS
STAR STAFF
ivan.sanders@elizabethton.com
While most things seem to go down the older they get, the Elizabethton Covered Bridge continues to beat the odds of getting older as the popular structure recently turned 139-year-old on February 25th.

With grant money in the works, the bridge will soon be getting a much-needed facelift after weathering many years of rain, snow, wind, and floodwaters that managed to breach the structure from the Doe River that flows below it.

While many can quickly recognize the structure, there are some interesting facts about the bridge that many may not know.

For example, structurally the bridge contains one span, a covered wooded Howe Truss which is typically constructed of timber diagonals and iron verticals that covers a length of 137 feet while the total length of the bridge is 154.3 feet.

The bridge has one lane for traffic that originally vehicle traffic was allowed to cross over but later on eliminated vehicle traffic.

There also is a single walkway. The curb to curb width is 16.4 feet with the outside width from one side to the other is 20.4 feet.

Masonry, stone, and concrete make up the bridge’s substructure with each end of the bridge featuring a projecting truncated gabled roofline.

The following is a brief history of the bridge according to Wikipedia:

“As the county seat, Elizabethton grew throughout the 19th century. However, Lynn Mountain hemmed it into the east and the Watauga River lay to the north.

“The Doe River flooded often and limited growth to the south. To span westward, to the site of the current downtown, the city would need a bridge over the Doe River.

“After extensive debate, in 1882 the Carter County Court approved $3,000 for the bridge and $300 for approaches. The court appointed a committee to select a site for the bridge. However, the committee encountered an unexpected problem — the men could not find a qualified contractor to erect the bridge.

“After county officials were unable to find a bridge contractor, a local doctor, E.E. Hunter, accepted the contract and hired experienced people to work on the bridge. Hunter selected Thomas Matson, who had been an engineer for the narrow gauge Tweetsie Railroad as an engineer and architect. Hunter referred to the bridge as his “five-dollar bridge” since he made a profit of $5 as a contractor.

“Although logs from a lumber operation and a barn were thrown against the covered bridge and its supports during a disastrous flood in 1901, this was the only major bridge in the area to survive.”

The Covered Bridge continues to draw people from all walks of life and many events are scheduled around the bridge each year bringing additional people to downtown Elizabethton.

It has also served as an ideal place for wedding photos along with numerous high school students who have used the bridge as a background for their prom photos.

This past Christmas, the Elizabethton Parks and Rec Department went all out with Christmas lights and many took advantage of the bridge for their Christmas card memories.

The work that is scheduled to be done will hopefully restrengthen and make the bridge a lasting landmark in Carter County for the many years ahead for the future generations of Carter Countians as well as visitors to appreciate.