February 2016
Simple Times

I’m an Addict

 
  A photo of Horton Mill Covered Bridge showing the big column about a third of the way from the bank.

Hello. My name is Suzy and I am an addict.

I have tried to overcome my addiction for many years, but I have failed.

To overcome addiction one needs to distance oneself from others or the thing(s) that are the source of the addiction. But I’ve found that to be an impossibility! As a matter of fact, others not only try to feed my addiction, I fear I’m usually surrounded by others who share the same problem.

Yes, it’s true. I am a covered bridge addict!

And the fact that my home county of Blount County had four of the state’s remaining covered bridges (sadly, that number has now been reduced to three) sure added to the struggle.

My problem first surfaced in the summer of 1979. My now-late-husband Roy and I found our dream home sitting atop 2.5 acres on the road directly behind the historic Horton Mill Bridge. And I fell in love with that old bridge!

The smell of its timbers … the way it creaked when I drove across it … the peace and calm that seemed to just surround it and everyone in it if you hiked along the riverbank below.

So the problem magnified gradually.

There were some drinking glasses with picturesque covered bridges painted on the sides that I just had to have. Of course, similar coffee mugs followed in quick succession.

This was before everything in the world could be at your fingertips on the Internet, but there were books and books and books about covered bridges and I had to have every one I saw!

 
  Swann Covered Bridge

Then there were potholders, kitchen dish towels, calendars and framed photos I made myself.

We’d go on a trip or just a Sunday afternoon drive and I’d see a sign pointing to one of Alabama’s remaining covered bridges and I HAD to go there.

Then in the early 1980s while working as a newspaper reporter and doing publicity for tourism in our county, I was privileged to get to interview Zelmer Tidwell at his home near Locust Fork.

He was paid $3 a day as foreman and his workers $1.75 a day when Blount’s covered bridges were built in the late 1920s and early ’30s.

Supplies were as inexpensive as the salaries. The 42,000 board-feet of lumber required for Horton Mill Bridge’s original town-truss style was bought at $17 per thousand. All work was done strictly, securely and solidly by hand without benefit of power or battery-operated tools.

 
Easley Covered Bridge after its renovation.  

Tidwell remembered all the timbers and materials for the bridges being hoisted from the ground by ropes. Beams and latticework were held together by large bolts with the nuts on the outside to keep them from being stolen. Absolutely no large machinery was used in the original construction.

Only one man was seriously injured during Tidwell’s tenure as bridge superintendent. The late Julius McCay, one of the carpenters, lost his footing while atop Swann Covered Bridge and fell. He was unconscious for several hours, but soon returned to work.

Legend has it (as recounted in the book "Country Roads" by Carolynne Scott – one of the books I HAD to have because of its section on covered bridges) that many of the other construction workers’ lives were changed by the beautiful prayer McCay recited while he was unconscious!!!

Tidwell said it took a crew of 15 men 1.5 months to complete Horton Mill Bridge’s original construction including the time for construction of the off-center stone support pillar.

Mr. Tidwell told me he used dynamite to "pit out" the large boulder in the river to provide a level foundation for the bridge’s laid-stone support pillar.

When I asked him about the deep gorge spanned, Tidwell simply said, "I just threw me a couple of braces across. We had to build it part of the way, and then move on up and work on the other."

Mr. Tidwell passed away in the late ’80s, but my interview with him just fueled my addiction, I mean interest.

My daddy had the late local artist Faye Todd paint a large painting of Horton Mill Covered Bridge after our dream had burned and we built another house.

And even after daddy died and we bought my farm home place from my mama, the painting – and my covered bridge addiction – traveled with me!

There are note cards, Christmas ornaments and so much more featuring covered bridges ... so I guess there’s basically no hope for me.

The lovely Nectar Covered Bridge was destroyed by arson in ’89 and I stood and photographed that bridge as it fell to the river below, while grown men stood on either side with tears streaming down their faces.

But our county is still blessed to have Horton Mill Covered Bridge, Easley Covered Bridge and Swann Covered Bridge all still IN USE in the county today, thanks to a revitalization project carried out by the county and about $500,000 in a combination of Transportation Enhancement Funds, National Covered Bridge Restoration monies and local funds.

If you love covered bridges like me, all you have to do to visit is drive into Blount County. Take Alabama Highway 75 about five miles north of Oneonta and Horton Mill Covered Bridge is on the left. Horton Mill is more than 75 feet above the river below and is possibly the farthermost above water still in use in the Southeast today.

Easley Covered Bridge is north of Oneonta off U.S. Highway 231 between Oneonta and Cleveland in the small community of Rosa. You follow the signs by turning onto the road beside Pine Grove Baptist Church and the smaller bridge is less than a mile away.

Swann Covered Bridge is located one mile west of Cleveland just off Alabama 79 and is the longest in the South still in use with a 324-foot span.

According to Sharon Rose, a past president of the grassroots group Friends of Blount’s Covered Bridges that was instrumental in pushing the rehabilitation, preserving them provides a historical picture not afforded many landmarks that have been lost as progress has taken its roots in our society.

"Visiting a covered bridge conjures thoughts of a time when life was slower, so much simpler," Rose said.

And this simple-living covered-bridge addict agrees!

Suzy Lowry Geno lives a simple life at Old Field Farm in Blount County. She can be reached through her website at www.suzysfarm.com.