Historic span crosses Rockcastle River, connecting Laurel, Pulaski counties
Neither flood nor fire nor the ravages of nearly a century of use keeps this stalwart from bringing pedestrians across the river.
The Old Sublimity Bridge was built in 1942, a project of the Civilian Conservation Corps, which put single men to work during the Great Depression improving America’s public lands in exchange for three meals, a bed and a few dollars. The bridge spans Rockcastle River where Laurel and Pulaski counties meet and is open to foot traffic only.
With a support structure built with stones quarried from surrounding sandstone cliffs, Old Sublimity connects the two sides of Bee Rock Campground within the Bee Rock Recreation Area of Daniel Boone National Forest. Twenty-five campsites dot both sides of the river’s edge, surrounding campers in the scenic splendor of towering trees, winding river and rugged outcroppings.
According to the Historic Bridge Foundation’s Bridgehunter.com website, Old Sublimity features a Pratt pony truss design, one of the oldest bridge designs and most commonly used in railroad bridge construction. Sometimes referred to as Rockcastle Bridge, the Sublimity moniker dates to a mid-19th century resort called Sublimity Springs that opened in 1855 and closed less than 25 years later.
“The easiest way to get to the area was from London and then crossing the Rockcastle River,” says London District Ranger Jason Nedlo. “Since the bridge provided access across the river and to Sublimity Springs, it became known as the Sublimity Bridge—now Old Sublimity Bridge.
“I suspect this bridge replaced a more primitive one, which would also have been known as the Sublimity Bridge and the name carried over,” he says. “I don’t have references for this, but place names tend to apply to the area and don’t change when a bridge or road is replaced.”
The bridge has weathered a number of calamities, including a deliberate fire set in spring of 2021 and a 2019 flood that put the campground under 10 feet of water.
“This caused significant structural and functional damage to the bridge,” says Nedlo. “The bridge was repaired, at significant cost, but the campground remained closed while we completely rebuilt it.”
The fire burned through a large section of the decking, creating a hole to the water below. “We replaced the burnt decking and had it inspected by an engineering firm to make sure it was still structurally sound. We also needed to repaint it to cover graffiti left by the arsonists,” Nedlo says.
In late October 2020, Cumberland Valley RECC consumer-member Dayna Cain of Williamsburg visited Old Sublimity Bridge. Inspired by the backdrop of fall colors framing the bridge, Cain photographed the bridge, entering one of the pictures in Kentucky Living’s 2021 photography contest.
“The photograph was taken after the flood, but before the fire,” says Cain. “When I heard about the fire, it broke my heart. I love that old bridge and was so glad I had taken pictures of it before the destruction.”
After two years of closures and extensive repairs and renovations, a completely rebuilt Bee Rock Campground fully reopened on April 1 of this year.
“Every campground was reconstructed, new stairs were installed, bathrooms were repaired and painted, and Sublimity Bridge was repaired and updated,” Nedlo says.
The work was completed by Daniel Boone National Forest staff, volunteers and service crew members, and paid for with visitor-supported recreation fees and funding from the Great American Outdoors Act, a national program that funds Forest Service projects, including infrastructure and maintenance.
Spanning the two sides of Bee Rock Campground, Old Sublimity Bridge is located within the Daniel Boone National Forest’s London District, on the border between Jackson Energy Cooperative and South Kentucky RECC. Directions: From I-75, take exit 38 (London). Turn west on State Route 192; go 18 miles to the bridge over Rockcastle River. NOTE: The Laurel County side of Bee Rock Campground, which has no electric service, is open year-round; the Pulaski County side is open from April to October.