Exploring and telling the story of abandoned bridges is one of our favorite topics. These structures are remnants of an era that is vastly different from the 21st century. The abandoned Cross Creeks Bridge in Stewart County, Tennessee is unique, both structurally and that its location is somewhat of a head-scratcher.
While exploring Bear Spring, Tennessee for articles related to the history of the town and the furnace, I decided to trek over to the bridge that we first visited in 2006. I didn’t realize it, but the area around the old, abandoned bridge is completely inaccessible this time of year. The Cross Creeks National Wildlife Refuge closes this area from mid-November to mid-March. So, while I couldn’t get new photos today, I’ve got some when we visited several years ago.
Way back in the day, county governments were usually the ones who built smaller bridges, not the state. In 1901, leaders from Stewart County wanted to build a bridge about a mile east of Bear Spring across South Cross Creek, leading along the river to Cumberland City. The bridge would have served the Bear Spring Landing site, which would have been used to transport locally produced iron and timber. It also served those using the ferry at the landing if they were heading south.
Bids were solicited to construct the bridge and the American Bridge Company got the contract. The cost to Stewart County totaled $2,689.49 (about $82,000 today – a real bargain). Most of the funds went to the company building the bridge, but others provided dirt work, engineering, and masonry for the project. One man named A. Fisher was paid $9 for building the approaches.
The Pratt truss bridge is unique in that it contains just one span that stretches 141 feet across, which was unusually long for that time. It boasted a width of 13 feet curb-to-curb and had some decorative features such a latticed portal. It was a nice bridge for that era and was proudly opened to traffic on August 6, 1902.
Another oddity is the location of the road from Bear Spring to Cumberland City. The bridge was built just 200 feet from the Cumberland River. The road curved southward and stretched for miles along the flood-prone river. Why they wanted to put an expensive road with nice bridges next to the untamed Cumberland River is a mystery to me. I guess lessons were learned; the bridge and roadway didn’t last very long.
The nearby Tennessee and Cumberland River Railroad ceased running in the early 1920s and the state of Tennessee decided to build a new highway on top of the old railroad bed. In 1924 construction was underway and Tennessee Highway 49 opened shortly afterwards, providing a new and more reliable link to Cumberland City via the community of Carlisle.
The new highway no doubt diminished traffic along the bridge and the older road along the river. We aren’t sure when it closed to vehicles, but we believe it was sometime in the 1930s. The Flood of 1937 may have contributed to the demise of the bridge and the road it carried, but that’s our speculation.
When the Cumberland River became permanently flooded with Barkley Dam in the early 1960s, the Cross Creeks National Wildlife Refuge came about around the Bear Spring area. The bridge still existed, and the refuge used it as a fishing pier for the flooded South Cross Creek.
An article in the Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle dated March 8, 2001, reported the old iron bridge was being closed to pedestrians due to corrosion. The bridge has been fenced off ever since, but the structure of the bridge remains today.
If you decide to visit the bridge, do not attempt to walk out on it. And as always, with every unique historical feature we share on Four Rivers Explorer, respect its history, and leave it as it is. Keep in mind that the area around the bridge is off-limits from November 15 to March 15.
Location of Cross Creeks Refuge Bridge
- Tennessee’s Survey Report for Historic Highway Bridges – Published by the State of Tennessee in 2008
- The Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle – March 8, 2001