On Saturday, Oct. 27, Sweetums and I will be in Blount County for the annual Covered Bridge Festival. We will be selling copies of our latest book, “Covered Bridges of Alabama,” from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in downtown Oneonta.
We’ve never attended the festival but we are excited to go this year, not only because of the new book but because of our newfound appreciation of covered bridges that stems from our research. I always thought they were picturesque but now I know more about their history and architecture.
The Covered Bridge Arts and Music Fest, which has been held in Oneonta each October since 1983, is free family event with a guided river walk, a car show, a Kids’ Zone, live music and food. Festivalgoers can visit Blount County’s three surviving historical bridges and shop at hundreds of arts-and-crafts booths in downtown Oneonta.
Blount County’s covered bridges – Horton Mill, Swann and Easley – were all restored in 2012-13 and are open to motor traffic. They are among only a few in the state you can drive across. For information on the festival, visit www.facebook.com/CoveredBridgeFest or call the chamber of commerce office at 205-274-2153.
As the festival approaches, I thought I would share a brief excerpt from our book on the bridges of Blount County. (To order a signed copy, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Excerpt from “Covered Bridges of Alabama,” by Kelly Kazek and Wil Elrick:
A 1981 application to have the Blount County bridges placed in the National Register of Historic Places explains their importance in the county’s history:
The bridges are significant in the transportation history of Alabama and Blount County as the last remaining examples of the major nineteenth-century solution to bridging streams and rivers in the state—the covered bridge. Although by the turn of the century, metal truss bridges had replaced the wooden bridge in most parts of the state, Blount County continued to construct covered bridges until 1935. At least 12 covered bridges were constructed in the county during the twentieth century, six of which were constructed in the 1930s. The bridges served to increase trade and communications between the numerous small communities of Blount County.
At the time of the application, the 1934 Nectar Covered Bridge was still standing. It burned in 1993, a terrible loss because of its historical significance and because it was the longest in the state at 395 feet. The application noted that building materials for the Blount County bridges came from Alabama. The bridges “are all Town Truss bridges constructed of local oak and pine, with stone or concrete piers and abutments. All hardware on the bridges came from Vann and Young Supply Company in Birmingham.”
Two members of the Tidwell family played a large role in Blount County’s bridges. Easley Covered Bridge was constructed circa 1927 by Forrest Tidwell, a foreman of the country crew. His nephew, Zelma C. Tidwell, learned bridge-building skills from his uncle and went on to construct Swann, Horton Mill, Vaughn, Locust Fork, Tyre Green and Nectar Bridges in Blount County. Only Easley, Swann and Horton Mill are still standing.
The NRHP application said Zelma Tidwell chose to use the Town Truss style because “it was the strongest bridge construction.” Tidwell was born in 1902 in the community of Locust Fork and was initially a bridge painter for the county. In 1930, he took over his uncle’s job as foreman of the bridge construction crew. He joined the Alabama Highway Patrol in 1936, after which no other covered bridges were constructed in Blount County.
The Blount County Memorial Museum has displays and photos of the county’s three surviving historical covered bridges, along with other local artifacts. The museum at 204 Second Street North in Oneonta is open from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays. For information, call 205-625-6905 or visit blountmuseum.org.