Covered bridges in Red Boiling Springs get online attention
June Shrum loves a good history story. As the secretary of Macon County Historical Society and the office manager at the society’s headquarters, she knows plenty about the families and stories that make up the county’s past.
But Shrum needed to do some digging for when she gets questions about the covered bridges in Red Boiling Springs. The overpasses include the Church Street Bridge, the Valley View Road Bridge and the Walking Bridge, a pedestrian-only span that connects to The Donoho Hotel.
“Nobody really talks about them in books,” Shrum says. “We have history books galore here, but only one mentions the bridges.”
Despite the lack of local fanfare, the Red Boiling Springs bridges have gained a virtual life of their own online as visitors seek them out for photos or write about them in blogs. Their pictures appear on photo websites like Flickr, and they’ve come up in articles about covered bridges, including one in onlyinyourstate.com.
Covered bridges are a rare sight in most parts of the country, as better materials and technology replaced them over the years. Today, only a small fraction of covered bridges remain in the U.S., with some estimates showing only about 1,000 left. To many, they represent an ideal in rural land- scapes. They also tend to give rise to an air of romance and mystery, as portrayed in love stories and suspense films.
“They are a tourism draw,” says Rita Watson, a Red Boiling Springs shop owner and executive director of Vision 2020, a nonprofit with the goal of promoting the town and enhancing the quality of life for people who live there. “The best part is that people who come just to see the covered bridges also tend to stay in one of our three historic hotels.”
Many covered bridges in the U.S. went up for practical purposes back in the 1800s. Their timbered trusses were covered with a roof — and sometimes siding — to prevent wear from the elements. Covered wooden bridges often stayed up four or more times as long as uncovered ones, making them safer and more cost-efficient than the alternatives.
The covered bridges of Red Boiling Springs got their start in the early 1970s, however. Shrum’s search found origins of the bridges in the book “Early Stories of Red Boiling Springs, Tennessee.” The two driving bridges, it says, were built after a “disastrous flood” in Red Boiling Springs on June 23, 1969. The book notes that several historic landmarks succumbed, but it makes no mention of previous covered bridges. The book says the federal government gave the city money to buy the flooded properties and build parks, along with a watershed and the bridges to mitigate damage and danger from future floods.
“They were built as a way for people to get across the creek,” Watson says. “During the flood, people got trapped. So, we received grants to get the bridges built.”
Bridge hobbyist Dale Travis lists the town’s bridges in the online document “Tennessee Covered Bridges” dated March 3, 2021. The Church Street and Valley View Road bridges, he notes, were constructed in 1973. Both span Salt Lick Creek. No date is given for the Walking Bridge near The Donoho Hotel.
Watson sees the bridges as an import- ant part of the town’s history — a draw that could bring more people to Red Boiling Springs to learn about its history. The town, once famous for its mineral spring spas, grew to be a popular destination for people looking for healthy get- aways and entertainment. Its hotels saw visits from famous artists, musicians and statesmen, including President Woodrow Wilson.
But Red Boiling Springs slowed as a tourist destination around the mid-20th century as the popularity of “taking the waters” declined. Other forces also con- spired to hurt the town. “Between floods and fires, so much of our history was destroyed over the years,” Watson says.
She hopes the town can build upon what remains and that the bridges will help draw in tourists. “Tourism is good for us economically,” she says. “For every dollar they spend, it’s like a $7 boost to our economy.”
Tourism can also bring up the town’s collective spirits, Watson says. “I think it’s good for us, emotionally, to see that people from outside value what we have. It’s a big boost to our well-being.”
Content provided with permission from NCTC.