In the year 1875, the people of the Harrisburg community located east of Sevierville proved they knew not to make the same mistake twice.
The original bridge over the relatively meager East Fork of the Little Pigeon River was washed out in a flood.
But its replacement was built in such a way that it would take a Biblical level rain event to take out the new covered bridge.
You don’t think of Tennessee as covered bridge territory. In my mind, that’s more of a relic of the eastern Midwest and, I suppose, Madison County, Iowa.
Of course, the people of Harrisburg were blissfully unaware that their fancy new structure might one day attract a photojournalist who liked to romance immigrant housewives.
They just needed a new bridge.
The history of the Harrisburg Covered Bridge
Anyway, the replacement for McNutts Bridge – as it was unfortunately named – was built for $75.
Private donations amounted to $50 and the Sevier County Court provided the other $25. The people of Harrisburg provided the wood.
The bridge, created by Elbert Stephenson Early, is a lesson in perspective.
The bridge is aesthetically pleasing from the front, approaching from the road, although that evaluation remains in the eye of the beholder.
But from the side, somewhere downstream, Early’s creation appears decidedly more utilitarian. Something like a barn that’s been stretched horizontally and stuck upon an ill-fitting pedestal.
The bridge does have a couple of small windows which you can look out and see the river. However, a few more windows to allow in some light would have done wonders for the overall look.
But now, nearly 150 years later, the covered bridge – one of two in Sevier County and one of only seven in the state – has transcended beyond such simple evaluations as pretty or not.
I chiefly vote not, with one caveat: The bridge’s aesthetics are greatly improved in the late spring and summer when the leaves on the trees along the riverbank are bright green.
However, it still exists and therefore it is a thing of real charm and beauty.
Early and family were noted craftspeople and they did their job well. It appears having a family of carpenters, mill builders, locksmiths and engineers can be right useful in the world.
How big is the Harrisburg Covered Bridge?
The bridge spans 64 feet with a total length of 88 feet and an inner width of 10 feet.
Located at Old Covered Bridge Road in Sevierville, the bridge has outlasted the community which thrived with mills and blacksmiths shops until the early 1900s.
At that time, a bypass came along and Harrisburg faded into mostly obscurity.
Still, the bridge endured. From horses and wagons to automobiles, it remained in service.
By 1952, the 77-year-old bridge needed some support as cars were becoming heavier and the bridge was aging.
A concrete bridge pillar was attached to the building framework. This addition did little for the aesthetics. But it did do a lot to keep the bridge from collapsing – at least for a while.
In the 70s, as the bridge approached its centennial, it was falling into a disastrous state of affairs.
The bridge seemed to be approaching its end. However, the Great Smokies and the Spencer Clack Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution stepped up.
Finances were raised that gave the bridge new life.
In 1975, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places, marking its 100th year of existence.
It was placed back into service by 1983 but carried a weight limit of 3 tons.
The Sevier County Highway Department, funded by a federal grant, increased the total weight limit to 15 tons in 2004.
The bridge, which depending on who you ask is only lightly used, remains in service today. It is considered safe to drive across.
Directions to the Harrisburg Covered Bridge
The bridge is only a few minutes from downtown Sevierville.
Take US 411 to 339 and turn right. Turn onto Harrisburg Road on your right and then take a left on the conveniently named Old Covered Bridge Road.
From the opposite direction, Old Covered Bridge Road forks off of 339.
In addition, if covered bridges are your thing – or you are Clint Eastwood (in which case, hi, Clint) – you might also want to also check out the Emert’s Cove Covered Bridge.
The Emert’s Cove Covered Bridge is on the West Prong of the Little Pigeon near the Pittman Center community near Gatlinburg.
Have you visited the Harrisburg Covered Bridge? Let us know in the comments.