by Lisa R. Collins
At one time more than 400 covered bridges dotted Kentucky’s landscape. Over the years, war, vandalism, and even weather have dwindled that number to 13, all located in the central and northeastern parts of the state.
The Goddard Bridge on KY 32 in eastern Fleming County is my favorite. It is thought to be the oldest covered bridge existing in the state, but the exact date of construction isn’t known. It spans 90 feet in length and is the only lattice truss bridge remaining in the state. Seeing the Goddard Methodist Church through the bridge is a piece of art in itself. With cattle casually grazing nearby, it is a picture perfect scene nestled in the country.
Bracken County is home to the Walcott or White Bridge. This covered bridge was originally built in 1880 and has since been restored. The 74-foot structure spans Locust Creek and is located a few miles north of Brooksville on KY 1159.
The Bracken County Historical Society has done an amazing job of preserving the bridge and the surrounding area. There are a number of picnic tables, making it a perfect place to enjoy a family gathering or to just sit and enjoy a good book. The bridge looks even whiter in bright sunshine and among the backdrop of a clear blue sky. An American flag is located nearby, waving proudly in the wind.
Two covered bridges are nestled in nearby Mason County. Listed as the second oldest of Kentucky’s remaining covered bridges, the Dover Covered Bridge crosses Lee’s Creek just off KY 8. It was built in 1835 as a toll bridge, and driving through the 61-feet-long span is a little like driving back in time.
The bridge received badly needed repairs in 1964 when the Mason County Historical Society and Kentucky Covered Bridge Association joined forces to preserve the structure. It was completely restored in 2000.
Valley Pike Covered Bridge, at 34 feet long, is the shortest of Kentucky’s covered bridges. Located seven miles out of Maysville on County Road 1320, it is on private property. It has existed for more than 100 years, but it was not until 1975 that it was listed as one of the state’s covered bridges. Even today it is easy to drive past the small structure without realizing it is a covered bridge.
Cabin Creek Covered Bridge, constructed on the Lewis/Mason County line in 1873, spans the creek of the same name. In the late 1970s the state highway department indicated an urgent need for repairs for the 114-foot span, and it was closed to traffic in 1983.
On our visit, a significant amount of graffiti covered the inside and outside of the structure. It is difficult to understand the thrill of vandalizing such a historical structure. Just as the sign near the bridge reminds everyone, Kentucky’s covered bridges have played a romantic role in our history and are a nostalgic link with the past. Structures filled with so much history deserve an enormous amount of respect.
Kentucky’s Other Covered Bridges
Fleming County, with three covered bridges, is known as Kentucky’s Covered Bridge Capital.
•The Goddard Covered Bridge, located off KY 32, is famous for being able to see the Goddard Methodist Church as one enters the bridge.
•Hillsboro Covered Bridge, located on KY 111 across Fox Creek, has four flood marks cut into the bridge timbers, the highest being 5 feet 9 inches above the floor from a flood in January 1937.
•Ringos Mill Covered Bridge, located on KY 158, was originally built for the use of employees and customers of a nearby gristmill.
Greenup County is home to two covered bridges.
•Bennett’s Mill Covered Bridge, located alongside KY 7, crosses Tygarts Creek and was open to traffic until March 2001.
•Oldtown Covered Bridge, located on KY 1, crosses the Little Sandy River.
Bourbon County is home to Colville Covered Bridge, located on Colville Road off U.S. 68 across Hinkston Creek, and was completely restored in the spring of 2001.
Two bridges are in Franklin County:
•Switzer Covered Bridge, located on KY 1262, spans the North Elkhorn Creek and received a major renovation after a flood in 1997.
•Johnson Creek Covered Bridge, located in Robertson County on KY 1029, is just north of Blue Licks State Park.
Washington County’s Beech Fork Covered Bridge, at 204 feet long, is Kentucky’s longest covered bridge.
For more information about Kentucky’s covered bridges, contact the Kentucky Covered Bridge Association, 62 Miami Parkway, Fort Thomas, KY 41075-1137 or call (859) 441-7000.
Also, read Kentucky’s Covered Bridges by Robert A. Powell, published and distributed by Silverhawke Publications, 2001.
“Jefferson Davis and Abe Lincoln weigh over 3,000 pounds each!” exclaims Reva Rose, general manager of Mountain HomePlace, a carefully reconstructed 1850s eastern Kentucky farmstead. “And they’re still growing so fast, we’re making them a new yoke for the 2004 season.”
Just to clarify, “Jeff” and “Abe” are oxen, big boys who’ll join the other animals—like Kate the mule who drives an old-fashioned sorghum press during Paintsville’s fall Apple Festival—to help show visitors just exactly what life on an Appalachian farm was like a couple of generations ago. Though a few four-legged friends spend the winter there with two-legged caretakers, Mountain HomePlace is open to the public from April through October. No matter when you visit, it is a ticket for time travel back to an era of hard work and simple pleasures.
In the early 1990s, the Paintsville Tourism Commission decided to create a working farm to dispel stereotyping and bring its mountain culture to life, leasing 40 acres in Johnson County on 34-mile-long Paintsville Lake from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps moved a cabin, a school, and a church from the Flat Gap area when creating the lake in 1978. Paintsville Tourism added a barn and shop, and Mountain HomePlace opened in 1995.
These days, Richard “John Boy Walton” Thomas, who grew up in the area, gives guests an introduction to the farmstead and the area in an award-winning film at the visitor center of this historically accurate attraction that garnered a Corps award in 2000.
Stepping through a split-rail gate into the past, you wander a walkway to the David MacKenzie cabin, circa 1860, where a mountain mama might be spinning wool or weekend musicians might be “hoeing down” on the porch. Dressed in period clothing, volunteer guides can answer most every question.
When they’re not busy plowing, Jeff and Abe live at the double-crib barn, along with Kate and numerous sheep, pigs, and goats. You can always watch the blacksmith working at his forge repairing farm equipment or making Kate’s new shoes.
With advance notice, guided tours are available for groups. Seniors can ride a tractor-driven shuttle and feast on an Appalachian lunch.
School groups—which can number 150-200 kids on busy days—play old-fashioned games like tug-of-war. Each September, classes can participate in Appalachian History Day, complete with a beef stew lunch from an iron kettle. Teachers from Johnson County’s Highland School instruct 1850-style in the one-room log schoolhouse. Kids must wear overalls and long dresses and attend a service in the old Fishtrap Church, where congregations are invited to worship.
Expanded activities this year include a new amphitheater with spring gospel singing; special celebrations for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas; and a restored, horse-drawn surrey to clip-clop visitors around the working farm. In addition, you can stitch on a Civil War quilt anytime during the year and buy a raffle ticket for a chance to win it at season’s end.
Open all year, the HomePlace Gift Shop is rife with handmade crafts. Though a small grant from the Paintsville Tourism Commission is expiring, the farm earns its way through admissions, crafts sales, and rental of the church for weddings or its shelters for reunions.
“With every generation, we lose a little of our history,” Rose explains. “Mountain HomePlace keeps our Appalachian culture alive.”
Want to help maintain this historic treasure? As a vicarious farmer, you can “Adopt an Animal,” and get a T-shirt and a thank-you note from your chosen farm animal.
More Info on Mountain HomePlace
Call (606) 297-1850 or go to their Web site at www.mountainhomeplace.com, for toe-tappin’ music and lots of information.
Paintsville and its surroundings are flat-out filled with more neat attractions. Call Paintsville Tourism at (800) 542-5790 or go online to www.paintsville.org.
An all-star stop on Kentucky’s Country Music Highway 25, Paintsville boasts greats Loretta Lynn, Crystal Gayle, and Hylo Brown. Lynn and Gayle’s brother Herman Webb runs the original mine’s Number 5 Company Store, (606) 789-3397, in nearby Van Lear where their dad worked. Grab a bologna sandwich and Moon Pie at the store, and Webb will take you through the Loretta Lynn Home at Butcher Hollow.
At the Van Lear Historical Society and Coal Miners Museum, see a 1920-1930s coal company town, shown by appointment by one of the volunteers, (606) 789-9725.
Come the first weekend in October for the Kentucky Apple Festival in downtown Paintsville with apples, a parade, antique car show, free concerts, and carnival rides.
Whenever you visit, do not miss the Paintsville Livestock Market, with animals every Saturday all year. “It’s like a hundred yard sales in one location,” says Leneda Fuller of Paintsville Tourism.
Outdoor lovers can call and rent a houseboat at Paintsville Lake State Park, (606) 297-LAKE, with its brand-new campground, (606) 297-8486, and a horseback-riding trail around the lake.
You can tour the Mayo Mansion, the 43-room home of eastern Kentucky’s first coal baron and Mayo United Methodist Church. At lunchtime, hit the Java House Café, (606) 789-2233, downtown for soup and sandwich, or Wilma’s, (606) 789-5911, for home cookin’ and, says Fuller, “the best pie you’ve ever put in your mouth.”
A 20-minute drive away, Jenny Wiley State Resort Park has overnight lodging in the pines, (800) 325-0142 or online at www.jennywiley.com.
Katherine Tandy Brown is a regular contributor to the Traveling Kentucky column.