The Elkmont Bridge, located where Elkmont Road crosses the Little River at Elkmont Campground, is the only multiple arch steel and stone masonry bridge in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park (HAER No. TN – 35–full source below). That I was even able to photograph this bridge at all is a testament to the serenity Rand and I felt whilst in the Smoky Mountains last weekend. Let’s just say that my ability to read a map is somewhat challenged these days, and one would rarely think of getting stuck in 2 hours of bumper-to-bumper crawling and standstill traffic to go 6 miles in the Smoky Mountains, only to realize I had misunderstood the directions and was not at my desired destination, would one? The returning side of traffic had been flowing smoothly, until the tow truck called for a disabled motorcycle blocked our lane to load said motorcycle. We laughed, yes, we really did. That little fortuitous accidental delay caused us to decide to take a side road, which led to the bridge. Ya see, sometimes troubles can be a good thing.
The stone veneer bridge is built of rock quarried from nearby Little River Truck Trail, and one of the few bridges built entirely by Civilian Conservation Corps enrollees, with the exception of the shovel operator, who was a professional. Superintendent of the park Eakin said at completion:
It is said that many of the enrollees could now secure a job of stone cutter in any organization. (Superintendent’s Monthly Report, November 1936)
Four multi-plate corrugated steel arches were embedded in concrete piers and then topped with concrete. Each arch is 18’4″ wide and 13’4″ high for a combined length of 113 feet. The full bridge including abutment is 201 feet long and 22 feet wide. Begun in June 1936, the bridge was completed in July 1937.
The bridge arches were covered with fill dirt, and then the roadbed laid, which was of crushed stone. At some point, the roadbed was paved with asphalt. Bridge No. 047 remains in use to access both campgrounds and hiking areas at the Elkmont Campground off Little River Road between Townsend and Gatlinburg.
Edward J. Lupyak contributed drawings of the bridge construction peel-away to the survey:
Every time I am able to persevere and locate a previously unknown-to-me find, and sometimes, a find not yet identified on the Living New Deal project, I just get a little giddy with excitement. As I was reading in Carroll Van West’s Tennessee’s New Deal Landscape: A Guidebook, I could not help but feel something of a pang of sadness for the families who lost their homes in order for the national park to be built and preserved that people might have the opportunity to experience the beauty of this incredible part of the Appalachian chain. Conservation and preservation is always about trade-offs, and I doubt we will ever all see eye-to-eye on that any more than we do other issues. Elkmont campground is located near the remains of the old resort/summer vacation area of Elkmont, where well-to-do people from the cities spent summers in the cool and refreshing air of the Smoky Mountains on the hillside. If not for efforts to build the national and state park systems, many of us might not have been able to know those same opportunities.
Historic American Engineering Record. (1996). Great Smoky Mountains National Park Roads and Bridges, HAER No. TN-35. National Park Service. Washington, D. C.