Before 1900, Georgia was dotted with more than 250 covered bridges that spanned rivers and streams and sometimes deep ravines. Today, fewer than 20 of the aging, historic structures remain — all picturesque. Several are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Preservationists have made heroic efforts to save the remaining covered bridges, refurbishing, repairing, and shoring them up, but retaining their historic features. Some bridges still accommodate highway traffic — like the Concord Covered Bridge (c. 1872) in Cobb County that supports a steady flow of vehicles on busy Concord Road over Nickajack Creek.
Cars also still ply Georgia’s longest covered bridge, the Watson Mill Bridge spanning the Broad River between Madison and Oglethorpe counties. Built In 1885, the 229-foot-long bridge was restored by the state Department of Transportation using antique tools — and is now the central attraction of Watson Bridge State Park.
Most of Georgia’s remaining covered bridges still stand at their original locations, but a few have been moved to new sites to save them. Stone Mountain State Park’s Covered Bridge (c. 1891) in DeKalb County originally stretched over the North Oconee River in Athens, but was moved to the park in 1963.
Steeped in mystique and rural character, Georgia’s covered bridges remind us of days gone by, the days of buggies and “horseless carriages.” Perhaps that’s why today they draw legions of photographers and visitors who have fond memories of the bridges during their childhoods.
More than a century ago, many covered bridges were the venues for community dances, swimming, fishing, and family picnics. Lovers also found the bridges to be excellent places for hiding from the eyes of kin and neighbors to snatch a quick kiss or two. Hence, covered bridges also were called “kissing bridges.”
Several explanations have been offered as to why these bridges were covered — to keep horses from shying when crossing a stream; to provide shelter for travelers caught in sudden downpours; or to keep a bridge from icing over in winter.
The real reasons, though, were more practical — covering the wooden structures protected them from the weather and extended their lifetimes by many years. Also, a roof added structural strength and stability.
Whatever the reasons, each bridge has its own set of stories, folk legends, and distinctions. Tales are still told about villains and highwaymen hiding in the rafters of some bridges and springing down on unwary travelers. Several bridges are said to be haunted.
The Red Oak Creek Covered Bridge (c. 1840s) in Meriwether County has the distinction of being built by Georgia’s most notable covered bridge builder, Horace King, a freed slave who erected several bridges in Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. The Red Oak Creek bridge is the only one of his works still standing in Georgia.
His son, Washington W. King, later built several more bridges, including the Watson Mill Bridge and the Euharlee Covered Bridge (c. 1886) in Bartow County.
For a list of Georgia’s extant covered bridges, visit this Wikipedia page.