A Bridge Not Too Far

Campbell’s Covered Bridge in Landrum: vintage Americana.

I never saw an authentic covered bridge until Clint Eastwood directed and starred with Meryl Streep in “The Bridges of Madison County.” Genuine covered bridges in these parts are as rare as hens’ teeth. Several years ago, though, I came across the real deal: a covered bridge up in northern Greenville. It was late afternoon when sunlight comes in so low everything is gold and lustrous, and driving into it is hard. A bit blinded as I rounded a curve, I got a treat as my eyes adjusted — Campbell’s Covered Bridge.

You can see it too. Just make a two-hour, 112-mile drive to Landrum. You’ll find the covered bridge near the small town of Gowensville. It’s South Carolina’s last remaining covered bridge and it crosses Beaverdam Creek. Greenville County owns the bridge and closed it to traffic in the early 1980s. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places on July 1, 2009. Major renovations have kept the bridge in good shape.

In 1909, Charles Irwin Willis built the 38-foot long, 12-foot wide pine structure. The bridge was named for Lafayette Campbell, who at the time of the bridge’s construction owned 194 acres in the immediate area. Campbell owned a nearby gristmill and he let his property to be used for the bridge’s construction. Willis was no dummy. He knew area farmers could better bring their corn to his mill across the creek.

The Greenville County Recreation District has transformed the surrounding acreage into a park where visitors can picnic, explore the foundations of the old gristmill and home site, wet their feet in Beaverdam Creek and learn about the area through interpretive signage.

I loved the old bridge. I got out and walked inside the bridge, struck by its narrow width, just right for horse-drawn buggies. Through cracks in the wooden flooring, I saw and heard Beaverdam Creek running cold and swift over rocks below. Everything was peaceful, the air a bit chilled. I stayed there a while trying to envision the many years long ago when old cars and carts rolled through and no one gave a second thought to the bridge’s uniqueness. I’m sure it made for a nice spot for couples, once the busy day settled down, a “Bridges of Madison County” spot, so to speak, for lovers. I walked out from the bridge as darkness settled in, and just then a young couple drove up. They looked at me, a stranger, as if I didn’t belong there, and I didn’t.

I was glad to see the old bridge still had allure, still had its pull on romantic souls. It will pull on yours too. It’s there. The bridge and surrounding area are quiet, peaceful and beautiful. Pack a picnic come fall when the leaves burst with color and visit this rare bit of Americana. Be sure you take photos of this rare covered bridge. Once you’re ready to move on you’re not far from SC Highway 11, the Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway. Look for mountain vistas, handmade quilts, apples, apple jelly and honey for sale. Return home with great moments to remember.

 

If You Go …

• Campbell’s Covered Bridge

171 Campbell Covered Bridge Road

Landrum, S.C. 29356

Learn more about Tom Poland, a Southern writer, and his work at www.tompoland.net. Email day-trip ideas to him at [email protected]