ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. (WJHL) – News Channel 11 is celebrating 70 years of journalism in the Tri-Cities, and each month a different locality in the area will be featured. For January, News Channel 11 spotlighted Elizabethton.
For many, the Covered Bridge is the first thing that springs to mind when thinking about Elizabethton. The landmark has stood over the Doe River for 141 years.
In that time, the bridge has weathered several storms and held its ground through them all. Built in the late 1800s, the Tennessee Department of Transportation reports that it cost $3,000 to construct.
Elizabethton city archivist Joseph Penza said the bridge was actually covered to protect the structure.
“They were covered to protect the bridge, not the people,” Penza said. “The wooden bridge wouldn’t last very long without the covering.”
Penza told News Channel 11 that he is always finding new historic items that feature the landmark.
“There is no end to the type of memorabilia and historic material that I find with the covered bridge on it,” Penza said. “Sometimes, it’s logos for a company that’s not there anymore. Sometimes, it’s stationary that a church put out for a fundraiser.”
The Covered Bridge has become an icon for Elizabethton that Penza said has led to it being featured in all sorts of works of art. Part of what makes the bridge so beloved is its toughness.
“The 1901 flood nearly knocked the bridge down,” Penza said. “The 1940 flood was equally as bad. It survived both floods; I think the symbol of strength that it has become because it survived these natural disasters survived the test of time, endears it more to the community.”
During its tenure in the capital of Carter County, the bridge has formed a connection with the natives. Covered Bridge Park has become a gathering place for events in the city all year long.
“The Covered Bridge itself is special,” said Mike Mains of the Elizabethton Parks and Recreation Department. “We try to incorporate a lot for our activities and programming here for the park. We are here to serve our citizens first, but it’s such a great feature that it’s a natural draw to our area.”
141 years later, the bridge and its park are still improving. A recent $1.25 million grant was awarded by the state for upgrades to the park over the next 2-3 years.
“Right now, we are in the engineering phase,” Mains said. “We are getting a good plan together, and we can’t wait to get that done one day and have even more people coming to the Covered Bridge Park.”
“It’s such a versatile symbol for the city, and I hope it continues to be that for a long time because besides the soldier’s monument, I really can’t think of a better symbol for the community,” Penza said.