Next weekend’s events celebrate town’s most noted landmark

Published 11:33 am Friday, September 15, 2023

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The annual Covered Bridge Celebration is more than a celebration of music, arts and crafts, and tasty food. Lest we forget, it is a celebration of the town’s best-known landmark, the historic Elizabethton Covered Bridge.
It has been billed as the “five dollar bridge,” and to tourists, it is one if not the most popular attractions in town. But, to Carter Countians, it is simply the Covered Bridge, and has been around much longer than any of its residents.
The mastermind behind the bridge, built in 1882, was Col. Thomas E. Matson, who engineered the Manhattan Elevated Railroad in New York City as well as the Tweetsie Railroad Line from Johnson City to Cranberry, N.C., which had been completed only a brief time before construction on the Covered Bridge began.
The site for the bridge was selected by a committee of three members from the County Court, and the job of seeing that the bridge got built fell to Dr. E.E. Hunter. Members of the construction crew included J.M. Simerly, a local attorney, Dr. J.M. Cameron, W.M. Folsom, and J.C. Smith, an unlikely crew to build a bridge.
However, the actual carpenter work is said to have been done by A.T. Johnson, George Perry, and Mike Lindamood. The bridge was built entirely by hand, using tools that a carpenter in that day and time might have used. The pay was said to be have been about 10 cents an hour…or perhaps a dollar a day. It is said that when the bridge was completed, and Dr. Hunter had paid the bills, he had $5 left…thus, “the five-dollar bridge.”
The old bridge, which has been closed to traffic for several years, has seen much activity during its 100-plus years, and could tell many amusing and historical tales if it could talk. Among those stories might be that of the peddler in his horse-drawn wagon, the doctor making a housecall on horseback, the bootlegger peddling his whiskey in the dark of night, sweethearts kissing and carving their initials in its wood, baptizings in the chilly Doe, and boys fishing beneath it. Now, tourists take pictures of it almost every single day.
However, the bridge has performed no greater task with more benefit than during the May Flood of 1901. It was the only bridge left standing over which the residents of the “Old Town” could cross the raging Doe to safety, to higher ground. When the flood came, many families drove their wagons and carriages loaded with their most precious possessions through the Covered Bridge. To the residents of that era, the bridge stood as a symbol of safety.
The bridge was once again threatened by raging flood waters when on the night of Jan. 7, 1998, the mighty Doe raged again, this time spilling water from its banks all the way from Roan Mountain to its confluence with the Watauga River. The bridge was imperiled when a school bus was washed into the river several hundred yards south of the bridge and was hurled downstream with the force of the river behind it. But just a few yards upstream, a newer and more modern concrete bridge served as a restraint for the loose bus, thus saving the old bridge.
To the men who built the historic Covered Bridge, it was a necessity to cross the river…it was a work of pride. Little did these bridge builders know that one day this old Covered Bridge would be a town landmark. Noted today more for its beauty than for its commercial value, the bridge captures the fancy of photographers, tourists, and even home folks, who will gather once again this weekend on the banks of the Doe to celebrate the 141-year-old landmark, which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 as part of the Elizabethton Historic District.
It is a landmark worth celebrating and a piece of our history that exemplifies not only the longevity of the town, but the pride and strength of its citizens.
We invite you, our readers, and the citizens of this community to join the Covered Bridge Celebration, beginning Friday and continuing Saturday and Sunday.

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