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HARRISBURG COVERED BRIDGE!

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EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK:
STORIES FROM THE GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS
BY GENE AIKEN

    Sevier County’s cherished old covered bridge stands as a memorial to the industry and hard work of the Early family: skilled engineers, millwrights and carpenters. The bridge also is a memorial to the Harrisburg Community and to the founders of that community.

     From around the turn of the century until 1915, Harrisburg was a busy commercial center. There was a store, a mill, a blacksmith, and a school but that is getting ahead of our story. Lets go back to the beginning as far as we know.

     When the pioneers in our area looked for a good home-site, they were looking for a source of good water (spring, brook, etc). Far sighted men were also looking for a stream with enough volume and fall to power a mill.

     The first settler in the Harrisburg area as far is known was a Mr. Hill, and his body lies in a grave in the Red Bank cemetery. The old dirt road from Knoxville to Newport passed through what was to become Harrisburg. This was the road along which  Longstreet retreated from Knoxville on his way to Virginia during the Civil War. This was an important road and required a bridge. We don’t know who built the first dam, mill and bridge here. The flood of 1875 washed all away. Shortly after the flood the large plantation changed hands. A Mr. McNutt who had owned the property was a confederate office in the Civil War. He sold the plantation to Alexander Umbarger who was from Virginia. Mr. Umbarger’s ambitious plans for rebuilding the dam and mill brought a number of people to the area.

     Among those coming were the Earlys. These were skilled people: engineers, millwrights, carpenters. The Earlys had built other mills in Sevier County, and one in North Carolina. Elbert Stephenson Early owned Newport Mills. Elbert Early is given credit by the State Historical Commission for being the builder of the Harrisburg Covered Bridge, as shown on the historical marker IC 55 near the bridge. Elbert probably had the help of other members of his family in the task.

     Harrisburg flourished when Mr. Umbarger and his son-in-law, a Mr. Hines, operated the mill. The mill became a more modern roller mill. A sawmill was built. There was a blacksmith shop. Between 1890 and 1916 Harrisburg was fat the height of its activity. The blacksmith shop was an interesting place. The smith made dog irons for folks to use in their fireplace, shovels and other implements for the farm. He sharpened the plows, shod horses, and in short made anything  from metal a body might need.

     The general store was owned by the Marshall twins. This was the social center of the area. Men idled by rain or other vagaries of nature, could talk about the weather, bemoan bad crops, brag about good crops or just pass the time. Men brought grain to the mill to be ground into flour or into meal. Yes, wheat was grown in Sevier County back then. There was a telephone line from Cosby, by way of Jones Cove and Harrisburg to Sevierville. It was a party line. A local doctor even made his own batteries!

     There is a story that when the old bridge needed its cover repaired in 1910 that two small boys helped a Mr. Burns with the task. They climbed up on the bridge and helped to remove the old boards. One of the boys made the statement, years later when he was 77 years old, that when he helped with the bridge there was a date in large letters on the south entrance that read 1887.  Some time in the life of the bridge the old weather boards were damaged by folks making a sport of throwing rocks against them. Carpenters repaired the bridge, replacing the damaged weather boarding. The carpenters also made the small windows. The original bridge had no such windows.

     Several doctors cared for the Harrisburg community. The first one to practice there was Dr. Hodesden who lived at a large plantation known as Rose Glen sometime in 1880-1890. Dr. Fred Cape lived in Harrisburg. Dr. John Elder was there 1890- to 1903. He was from Jefferson County and a graduate of East Tennessee Medical School. He made calls to Greenbrier, Dutch Settlement. Gatlinburg, and Boogertown, as well as serving Harrisburg.

     Why did the busy community die? The old dirt road from Knoxville to the East Fork became what is  known as a by-passed road. In, 1915 the road was extended to the Jefferson County line and by-passed Harrisburg by one-fourth mile. Business began to fail. People moved away.

     Dr. John Elder’s daughter Mary lived all her life within 150 feet of the bridge. Mary taught in Loudon County Schools and she taught in Sevier County Schools for many years. It is from her work that this writer and many others have gleaned a knowledge of Harrisburg. Mary elder passed away in 1981 but she left an enduring legacy: her work in the schools, and her memories of Harrisburg about which she wrote. Mary’s greatest work perhaps was that she was instrumental in stirring up interest in repairing and saving the Harrisburg bridge. She interested local leaders in the cause and in 1972 the old bridge was restored by joint efforts of the Great Smokies & Spencer Clack Chapters of the DAR.

To Order The Book:
STORIES FROM THE GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS
BY GENE AIKEN

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