Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Poinsett Bridge over Little Gap Creek

There is a historic bridge not far from home, built way back in 1820. It is located in Greenville County here in South Carolina, and is the oldest surviving bridge in the state, possibly in the southeast. It was constructed of stone and was one of the first completed elements of the State Road, which would ultimately connect Charleston to Columbia in South Carolina to western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee.

I have ridden there three times so far. These photographs are from my first and second trips there, the first on a warm day in June of 2008, the second on a cool ride the day before Christmas, 2008.

The Poinsett Bridge is the only bridge left of the three originally constructed as part of the Saluda Mountain Road. It still stands in remarkably good shape. The Poinsett Bridge has a Gothic or pointed arch that is 15 feet high and 7 feet wide. The total length of the bridge is 130 feet. Stepped parapet walls were constructed on both sides of the bridge. The height of the bridge, from the water to the top of the parapets, is 24 feet.

Not much remains of the old Saluda Mountain Road except that portion adjacent to the bridge. The old roadbed has been masked by the construction of County Road 42, also known as Callahan Mountain Road.

Another original feature of the bridge was a railing or guardrail on either end of the stepped stone parapets. This would have served to protect travelers along those areas of the bridge, especially around the abutments, not protected by the highest section of the parapets. This railing was presumably made of wood.

Except for the arch, the stones used in the bridge are only roughly hewn. To ensure a good fit, mortar was used throughout. In fact, the only smooth-faced stones found in the whole bridge, are those that define the outer edges of the arch, technically called the “surround.” The arch, which rests on bedrock in the streambed, is formed by rectangular-shaped blocks or voussoirs that are slightly wedge-shaped and cut to fit into the arch. The stones facing outward are slightly raised to create relief. The alternating pattern, the relief, plus the pointed apex of the Gothic arch, give the bridge a medieval look. Overall, the bridge walls contain roughly coursed stone. Given the difficulty of transporting stone in the era of animal transportation, it is likely that the stone used in the bridge was quarried nearby.

The bridge’s date of construction is known because it is recorded in the key stone of the Gothic arch, which forms the passage for Little Gap Creek, called Callahan Branch today, a small tributary of the North Fork of the Saluda River.

The bridge is located immediately north of County Road 42, often known locally as Dividing Water Road. See the map of my entire ride today with Poinsett Bridge shown at pushpin "E." It is just down the road to the northwest of Boy Scout Camp Old Indian.

This close-up map shows the bridge at pushpin "A."

View Larger Map

The roads near here are frequently used by bicyclists. They have painted certain instructions on the road surface where the grade is especially steep ("Grunt," if steep uphill), or where there is a tight curve or other hidden hazard ahead.

The bridge is named after Joel R. Poinsett, then director of the South Carolina Board of Public Works. A physician, botanist, and politician, he was also the 15th United States Secretary of War under president Martin Van Buren. This is Poinsett's picture:

[From Wikipedia.]

He is also credited with bringing the "Flor de Noche Buena" (Christmas Eve flower) from an area of southern Mexico called Taxco del Alarcon. The perennial, known as the poinsettia, is a favorite Christmas-time plant.

A number of years ago, the Nathaniel Greene Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution placed a stone marker on the south side of the bridge. Somebody left his motorcycle helmet and tank bag near the marker -- must be forgetful.

It reads, “This bridge on the state road from Greenville to Asheville was built in 1820 by Abram Blanding, Acting Commissioner, Board of Public Works, Joel R. Poinsett, President.”

The earliest listings of toll rates charged 75 cents for a carriage pulled by 4 animals (horses, oxen, or mules). A conveyance pulled by 2 animals commanded 62 cents. One pulled by 1 animal, 25 cents. Other vehicles, presumably wagons, also had to pay based on the number of draft animals: for 6 or more, it was 75 cents; for 5, it was 62 cents; for 4 animals, 50 cents; and for 3 or less, it was 37 cents. A cart was charged 25 cents. A rider on horseback, 12.5 cents. A led animal cost 5 cents. A herd of animals driven to market were charged per head, depending on the type of animal: oxen, 5 cents; cattle, 3 cents; goats, sheep, hogs, or turkeys, 2 cents. All South Carolina citizens living within 10 miles of the toll gate did not have to pay.

As unlikely as it seems now, the Saluda Mountain Road (the old State Road) and the Poinsett Bridge, remained in use until at least 1955 when construction was begun on the North Saluda reservoir to the northwest. In the year or so that followed, the road was realigned so that the Poinsett Bridge and the sharp turns associated with it were cut off by a new road bed, located immediately south of the old bridge. You can see the old and new alignments on page 53 of this report.

In this view looking across the bridge, you can see a silver Kawasaki Ninja 650R parked on the road. I wonder whose it is.

And that Ninja is still there.

A close up of the bike. The road is downgrade to the right.

Pictures from another trip, on December 24, 2008:

If you go:
There is a parking lot across the road from the bridge. It is gravel and uneven.
There is a very a narrow paved pulloff on the north (bridge) side of the road, but it is downhill toward the northwest, so your bike might come off its kickstand if parked headed downhill. My bike in the photos is parked headed uphill on this pulloff.

Watch for bicycle riders. They sometimes travel in groups, not necessarily in one line, and are slow on the upgrades but surprisingly fast on the downgrades.

The area nearby has an abundance of two lane roads with a wide variation in surfaces. Many of the curves are not well marked with advisory speeds.

Other nearby attractions:
Campbell's Covered Bridge
Old Esso Filling Station near Landrum, SC
Green River Road and Saluda, NC

Jones Gap State Park
Saluda North Carolina and the Saluda Grade
More of the Unusual

Poinsett Bridge: A Historic Context and Archaeological Survey
(much of the historical information in this posting is taken from this paper)Prepared for: South Carolina Department of Natural Resources
Prepared by: New South Associates, 6150 East Ponce de Leon Avenue, Stone Mountain, Georgia 30083, Mary Beth Reed – Principal Investigator
July 7, 2004

Wikipedia entry for Joel Roberts Poinsett.

Joel Roberts Poinsett historical marker.


irondad said...

I have to say the area looks way more appealing with the greenery around. That's the kind of place one could just wander around and soak up.

Doty said...

We went by it today and was very nice. Now I am reading your blog because I too am a beginner rider and I am relocated here so want to get to know the area better.
Safe riding,