Covered Bridge renovation expected to start next month

Photo By Rick Harris
A plan to restore Elizabethton's Covered Bridge could open the historic overpass back to motor traffic later this year.
By Thomas Wilson

   Restoration of Elizabethton's fabled Covered Bridge is expected to begin next month after a city government official and the engineering firm overseeing the project opened the lone bid on Wednesday.
   Representatives of the Tysinger, Hampton and Partners firm, along with city Director of Planning David Ornduff, received one bid from Lexington, Ky.-based Intech Contracting to make structural repairs to the bridge this year. The total bid came in at $162,000 including painting and lighting.
   However, the project's budget of $122,500 could force the city to temporarily delay painting the bridge through the restoration project. The bid included exceptions of $3,700 for lighting and $45,000 for painting costs, bringing the bid price option to $113,300.
   Ornduff said the lighting could be installed via change order after city officials gauge how much under budget the restoration remained. He added that the painting work could be re-bid in the future.
   Structurally, the bridge contains one span, a covered wooden Howe Truss that is 137 feet long. The bridge's total length is 154 feet. The bridge contains one traffic lane and a single walkway. The substructure is masonry stone and concrete. Each end of the bridge features a projecting truncated gabled roofline.
   The project was co-funded by a grant totaling $98,000 from the Tennessee Department of Transportation with the remainder coming from the city.
   Tysinger, Hampton and Partners firm will oversee the restoration project.
   The bridge has been closed to motor traffic since last year. Ornduff said he hopes to bring the bid proposal to City Council at next week's council meeting.
   Long a cultural trademark of Elizabethton, the genesis for the Covered Bridge began in the late 19th century when Elizabethton's growth extended beyond its borders on the Doe River's east side. Lynn Mountain effectively halted growth to the east while the Watuaga River lay to the north. The need to expand westward and the frequent flooding of the Doe River accelerated the city's need for a bridge over the river.
   In 1882, the County Court approved $3,000 for the bridge and $300 for approaches. When county officials were unable to find a bridge contractor, a local doctor, E.E. Hunter, accepted the contract and hired experienced people to work on the bridge. Hunter selected Thomas Matson, who had been an engineer for the Narrow Gauge "Tweetsie" Railroad as an engineer and architect. Hunter later referred to the bridge as his "$5 bridge" since he made a profit of $5 as contractor.
   The bridge has survived two devastating county floods in 1901 and 1998.
   Although logs from a lumber operation and a barn were thrown against the bridge and its supports during the disastrous flood in 1901, the Covered Bridge was the only major bridge in the area to survive.
   The bridge served as a backdrop for local author Lanette Depew's novella "A Bridge Spanning Time" published last year by The Overmountain Press.
   It is one of the two covered bridges in Tennessee identified by a Tennessee Historical Commission marker.