Historic Structures

Paint Rock Creek Covered Bridge, Huntsville Tennessee

Date added: June 12, 2022 Categories: Tennessee Bridges Covered Bridges

Paint Rock Creek Covered Bridge was one of the few original covered bridges remaining in use in the state of Tennessee. The structure was strengthened and restored for continued use in 1976.

The covered bridge made its first appearance in America around 1800. An out-growth of the picturesque style of architecture, covered bridges were then subject of builders' guides and design books of the nineteenth century. Apart from the quaint, aesthetic charm, the covered bridge had several practical qualities which added to its appeal. The barnlike appearance prevented horses from shying at the crossing. Livestock could be herded through the open portals which were designed to resemble a barn. Many of these covered designs have outlasted the enroofed-type bridges, and some were sold as farm buildings. The broad side walls were convenient for outdoor advertising. Many of the early single lane covered bridges became obsolete with the invention and use of the automobile; however the Paint Rock Creek Covered Bridge was in continual use since it was first built in the early 1870s until it burned in 1980.

The route west of Huntsville was known as the Jacksboro-Huntsville-Monticello Road on maps of the 1850s. It was the main route across the Cumberland Plateau to southwest Kentucky. Several secondary roads branched off from this route. The early settlements that can be reached by roads branching from this route are Winona and Bull Creek (south), Buffalo and Rock House Creek to Elk Valley (northeast), and Smokey (south).

The same route played an important part in the Civil War history of Tennessee. It was used by General Zollicoffer when he moved his army from Cumberland Gap to Mill Spring, Kentucky. It was also used during the following year, when a detachment from General Kirby Smith's army traveled over it to rejoin this commander, following the skirmish at Huntsville. Rejoining the main army at Jacksboro, the army pressed on for the invasion of Kentucky.

The bridge was repaired to meet state requirements for continued use. Recognized as a landmark in the area, the covered bridge was restored in keeping with its historic and architectural value. It has been included in several publications about covered bridges and it has been listed with the American Covered Bridge Association.

It was completely destroyed by fire in March 1980.

Bridge Description

The covered bridge at Paint Rock Creek was located two miles east of Huntsville, the county seat of Scott County. A picturesque landmark, the bridge dates back to the time when its primary use was designed for local residents and for travelers crossing the Cumberland Plateau to southwestern Kentucky. Today the Jacksboro Road is a remote scenic route, a two-lane gravel-top road which winds its way beside the stream bed and across the forested valleys. The covered bridge and the adjacent Paint Rock Creek have become a tourist attraction and popular fishing spot.

The old bridge was altered one time. In 1904 the bridge was repaired and additional layers of cut stone were added to the two stone supporting piers for added height above the flood stage on the creek. The only bridge at this location, it was open to one-way automobile traffic.

The decision to restore the bridge as a landmark came from the fact that it had been severely vandalized and weakened in recent years. The county road department made improvements to the Jacksboro Road and the covered bridge was restored and reinforced for the five ton weight limit, conforming to state of Tennessee standards and requirements. Measured drawings and the restoration plan were prepared by Barge, Waggoner, Sumner and Cannon, Architects. The James Coffey Construction Company of Huntsville was selected as the general contractor. The restoration work was completed in the Spring of 1976.

Before the restoration work began, most of the wood sheathing had been stripped from the bridge by vandals. The center section had been destroyed by arsonists; one side of the first queen post span at the upstream right end had also been destroyed by fire. All of the damaged parts and sections of the bridge were reconstructed from measured drawings made of the original structure. All original and existing timbers, decking and connections were straightened and aligned to return the bridge to sound condition. Reconstructed timbers are made from select poplar, spruce, oak, hemlock, and pine. The banked road bed surface was raised to a new elevation at each of the original stone embankments. At the undercarriage of the bridge, the bearing structure on the abutments and piers were reinforced to accommodate the designated load limit. All replacement timbers and decking were sawed, edged, and trimmed on four sides. Saw marks were left visible and matched to the existing members. Replacement wood materials were selected from weathered or seasoned wood and all of the existing wood materials were painted with a preservative coat of creosote.

In its condition before it was destroyed, the Paint Rock Creek Covered Bridge was a single-lane, wood timber structure approximately 11'10" wide, 13' high, and 101" in length. The bridge was centered across two concrete piers and supported at each end by concrete abutments. Added wood-trussed piers constructed below the queen posts were removed from below the undercarriage of the span section.

The span design featured the double queen post truss frame structural wall system for each of the three irregular-length spans which measured 27', 43' and 31' starting on the upstream side. This truss system was supported where it was joined at each pier and abutment, by vertical upright timber posts, attached to the top plate and to the bottom chord by existing "u" strap connectors with eyes and 1¼" through bolts with drive steel wedges used to tighten joints. Running the length of each span, 8" x 12" continuous length bottom chords support each span. Solid blocking, the width of each timber, has been added to support the jointing of each chord. The 3" x 8" deck is laid across a 9" x 10" center summer and reinforced by 2" x 9" blocking at each side. The undercarriage is further reinforced by 8" x 10" under-bearers, 3" x 8" sleepers, with 8" x 12" cantilevered braces added to improve the bearing condition at each pier and set on new neoprene pads. In addition 8" x 12 cantilevered braces have been added for each abutment. The understructure of the bridge was partially concealed by the random-butt pattern siding overhang.

Each of the three span sections were divided into thirds. The truss systems were constructed of 8" x 8" timbers. The two upright queen posts were separated by the horizontal top chord and joined at either side by diagonally set, mortised brace timbers. Each wall was divided horizontally by a 2" x 6" gird set between each frame members.

The taper split, red cedar, shingle-clad roof was formed by 2" x 4" rafters mitered at the gable ridge and resting across the continuous plate with rafter ends extending out 8" at the eaves. The trusses were arranged 2'4" o.c. and are formed out by 4" x 4" bottom tie beam attached to the top wall plate and reinforced by 4" x 4" knee braces. Shingles were 29" x 12" to 5/8" laid with 1/4" spacing, 10" exposure nailed to 1" x 6" sheathing, 10" o.c.

Portal enhances in the gable end walls were 9'6" high sheathed and formed out over the 1" x 6" extension of the top wall plate and reinforced by 2" x 6" knee braces. The gable ends and side walls were sheathed with rough-sawn, random-width, vertical board siding with the saw marks showing.

The width of the piers and abutments exceeded the width of the bridge. A new pedestrian walk was constructed across the downriver side of the outer wall of the bridge to accomodate pedestrian traffic and to allow fishermen the opportunity to fish from the bridge. The newly constructed walkway was 35½" wide and features a 39" high railing clad with vertical siding to match the bridge sheathing.