A bridge from past to present

John Thompson • Apr 18, 2012 at 10:53 PM

ELIZABETHTON — One of Elizabethton’s oldest and most photographed structures is back in business.

After being closed to the public for six months for renovations and security upgrades, the Covered Bridge is once again open to pedestrians and bicyclists. The facelift and structural work comes just in time for the bridge’s 130th birthday.

The $400,000 project includes the replacement of a broken lower cord and about 20 percent of the siding. Ironically, most of the siding that needed to be replaced was modern cedar boards that had been installed to repair holes or vandalism. Most of the 130-year-old poplar boards continue to stand the test of time and received a fresh coat of paint from painting subcontractor Paul Tickle.

Other repairs included new interior lighting, new bird netting, a sophisticated fire alarm system and new cedar shingles on the roof. The work was under the supervision of Jon Smith of Allegheny Restoration and Builders of Morgantown, W.Va. Tysinger Hampton and Partners of Johnson City provided the engineering.

The bridge rehabilitation began when the Elizabethton City Council voted to move forward on the project in October. Funding for the project came from a Tennessee Department of Transportation Enhancement Grant.

Thanks to an extremely mild winter, work progressed smoothly. The official grand opening and 130th birthday will be celebrated on June 7 with the opening of the 46th Annual Covered Bridge Celebration. There will be a live band and the public is invited.

According to the Tennessee Department of Transportation, the Carter County Court authorized the expenditure of $3,000 for a bridge over the Doe River. The bridge was needed because Elizabethton had no other direction to grow, since it was hemmed in by Lynn Mountain on the east, the Watauga River on the north and the Doe on south and west.

The new bridge would open the city to expansion into what became the downtown section and the residential section along Hattie Avenue.

A local physician, E.E. Hunter, accepted the bridge construction contract and hired engineer Thomas Matson to built it. Matson built the narrow gauge East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad track to the Cranberry iron ore mines. As a railroad engineer, Matson built what is essentially a railroad bridge across the Doe. It is a covered wooden Howe Truss that is 137 feet long, built to last more than a century.

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