at the longest covered bridge in the South, the Swann Covered BridgeWe visited the Swann Covered Bridge near Cleveland, AL, recently. Built in 1933, the same year my parents were born, it is 324 feet long and crosses in three spans the Locust Fork of the Black Warrior River. It was built on Swann Farm property to provide access to the town of Joy, so it is also called the Joy Bridge and the Swann-Joy Bridge. It is one of three still standing in the area that were constructed by Zelmer Tidwell and a crew of about 15. A fourth, the Nectar, was destroyed by arson in 1993.
We wondered what purpose the lattice design served. I have since learned that it was developed by Connecticut-born architect/engineer Ithiel Town (1784-1844). The design is known as Town's Lattice Truss and was patented in 1820. According to an Absolute Astronomy article, "the design was of great importance because it could be built quickly by relatively unskilled workers from readily available material. The truss design also avoided the need for the wide piers needed for stone arches. The design was widely used throughout the United States and made Town wealthy (Town charged one to two dollars per foot in royalties for his designs). "
It is now closed to vehicular traffic, but we walked inside and enjoyed the view of the river through the openings. I watched some boys splashing and swimming in the water just down from the bridge. The combination of the old wooden bridge enclosure and the frolicking boys made me feel like I was living in a Tom Sawyer story.
My husband and brother-in-law give a sense of scale to the bridge. I am so used to the narrow strips found in landscaping latticework, that the planks made me feel small.
One of the most interesting things I read about the Swann's construction was this anecdote from Alabama Farm News:
"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 (as recounted in the book ‘Country Roads’ by Carolynne Scott) has it many of the other construction workers’ lives were changed by the beautiful prayer McCay recited while he was unconscious!"
We really enjoyed our visit; Alabama is truly beautiful. I would love to plan another trip this fall to include the 26th Annual Blount County Covered Bridge Festival. It will be celebrated Oct. 24 in Oneonta, AL. Activities include an Arts and Crafts show, a golf tournament, and a Fun Run. Find complete information here.