Bridges to the Past

Alabama’s Covered Bridges Featured in Documentary –

Wooden covered bridges played an important role in the development of Alabama by providing safe passage over creeks and rivers at locations where crossing in a horse-drawn wagon or buggy would otherwise be extremely difficult or impossible. During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, hundreds of covered bridges were constructed in the state, but now only a few remain. Those persistent engineering marvels that still stand have become popular tourist attractions, giving visitors insight into the needs and hardships of our ancestors.

Bridges to the Past visits 11 historic covered bridges in Alabama, all of which were open to the public in 1999 when the documentary was made. From the Coldwater Bridge in Calhoun County, built in 1850, to the Horton Mill Bridge in Blount County, constructed in 1935, Bridges to the Past follows a timeline of Alabama history as witnessed by bridges which have withstood the tests of time, high water, and heavy loads. Because of their importance to communities, these bridges were used as meeting places for baptisms, weddings, and at least one hanging. Some were strategic participants in the Civil War while others simply served the daily needs of farmers and merchants.

Spanning locations ranging from peaceful brooks to ominous gorges, Alabama’s covered bridges provide picturesque settings for reflecting on life in the past.

Alabama covered bridges featured in Bridges to the Past include:

Alamuchee Bridge (1861), relocated to the campus of the University of West Alabama in Livingston, was used by Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest to move his troops into Mississippi during the Civil War. In its previous location at Alamuchee Creek, the bridge was where horse thief Steve Renfroe was executed by hanging. Ironically, Renfroe was serving as the county Sheriff when he was apprehended.
Clarkson-Legg Bridge (1908) stretches 250 feet across a gorge cut by Crooked Creek in Cullman County. James Wordlaw Legg donated all materials for the bridge including timber, nails, sand, and rock. Legg was a local mail carrier for the Clarkson Post Office who realized the need to improve transportation in the area.
Coldwater Bridge (1850) is located in Oxford City Park just off I20 in Oxford. The bridge was moved from its original location in an effort to save it. Like most Alabama covered bridges it is constructed of pine. The remains of a dam and mill can be seen upstream of where the bridge originally stood over Coldwater Creek.
Easley Bridge (1927) is the oldest of the three remaining covered bridges in Blount County, all of which are still in use. Located in the Rosa community, the bridge spans the Dub Branch. Members of the Tidwell family built all of the Blount County bridges.
Gilliland Bridge (1899), threatened by the construction of Interstate 59, was moved from the Gilliland Plantation in Reece City to Noccalula Falls Park by the city of Gadsden. A wedding took place at the bridge when a couple happened to meet the preacher there after going to Gadsden to get their marriage license.
Horton Mill Bridge (1935) towers over a deep gorge cut by the Warrior River in Blount County and is the highest covered bridge built over water in the US. Talmedge Horton, a descendant of the family that founded the gristmill for which the bridge is named, helped construct the bridge. He says that it took “fifteen men working from sunup to sundown for a year and a half” to build it.
Kymulga Bridge (1861) crosses Talladega Creek in the old Kymulga community near Childersburg. The bridge was built just before the Civil War and a gristmill was constructed there during the war. Both the bridge and the mill have been restored in recent years and are open to the public. Visitors can see corn ground with the original millstones that were imported from France. Turbines turned by water power the mill.
Nectar Bridge (1932) was the seventh longest covered bridge in the world. It burned in 1993 leaving the Nectar community of Blount County with a great sense of loss. The bridge was a community meeting place and the site of large baptism ceremonies. It was also said to have been haunted by the ghost of a mail carrier who had died there.
Oakachoy Bridge (1916) was built to connect two county seats, Rockford in Coosa County and Dadeville in Tallapoosa County. Wagons forded Oakachoy Creek at a location near the bridge before the bridge was built. Ruts worn by wagon wheels can still be seen in the rock. (This bridge burned in June, 2001.)
Salem-Shotwell Bridge (1900) connected the Lee county communities of Salem and Shotwell, separated by Wacooche Creek. Hand-hewn oak pegs join all the latticework, roof trusses, and substructure. High water and erosion has caused damage to the bridge supports but local citizens hope the bridge can be restored.
Swann-Joy Bridge (1933) at 324 feet in length is the longest surviving covered bridge in Alabama. It spans Locust Fork on the Warrior River in Blount County and is frequently visited by tourists and picnickers. It was built on the Swann farm to provide access to the Joy community.
Waldo Bridge (1858) spans Talladega Creek in the Waldo community southeast of Talladega. The bridge was built at Riddle’s Mill, a gristmill operated by the Riddle brothers. The mill has been converted into a restaurant. Used by Wilson’s Raiders during the Civil War, the bridge is near Riddle’s Hole, an 1840 gold mine that continued operating until World War II.

The locations of Alabama’s covered bridges are marked on the official Alabama State Highway map and directions to each bridge are given. These maps are available free by calling: 1-800-ALABAMA (1-800-252-2262).

DVDs may be purchased online: Buy a DVD of Bridges to the Past