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Sunday, January 24, 2010

SWINGING WOODEN FOOTBRIDGE -- KENTUCKY COUNTRY, VERNACULAR

SWINGING WOODEN BRIDGE SNAKING TOWARD AND OVER RED LICK CREEK
When I was a small girl my parents took me to a park that had a swinging bridge. They convinced me that it was safe so I began to walk with them over the bridge. Then the swaying began and I ran back to where I had started. No threats or smooth-talking could convince me to cross that moving bridge.

I hadn't seen a swinging bridge from that long ago time until I was riding through Red Lick Valley along beautiful Red Lick Creek last summer. It was difficult to make out as the nearby trees were hiding parts of it with their leaves. but I knew what I was looking at when I blinked a few times.


STARTING POINT TOWARD WALKING TO THE OTHER SIDE OF THE CREEK
That particular day I was out investigating the area. It is a mix of old and new ways. Farms dot the valley in this section of Estill County where I was driving. I had been this way a few times but never spotted the bridge before.

I was lucky to find several people that knew about the bridge and this is what I found out from them. That the bridge had been there at least fifty years, maybe longer. That it was used to get over the creek when it was flooded to feed the farm animals that were located on the other side of the creek from where the farmer lived. That at one time there were several swinging footbridges along Red Lick Creek but now were gone. That this particular swinging bridge was probably the only one left. A large flood some years ago damaged the bridge and they didn't know if it had been repaired. Builder was unknown. As always, one finds out plenty about an area through local folks.


WAVY CONSTRUCTION
In late fall I made a return trip to the swinging bridge. I purposely came at that time as I knew the leaves would be off the trees resulting in exposure of the bridge.

As I am not an engineer I still will attempt to describe its construction as a layperson. Here is my description. Full length cables, one on each side, run along the bridge's walking platform. The cables are attached to large cylindrical vertical posts that are placed along the side of the bridge intermittently all along its course. The cables have wires leading down to crosswise boards beneath the walking platform. The cable line would be about waist high when walking the wooden planks of the bridge. Ever so many feet along the walking platform would be an "H" structure built out of cylindrical logs. In the above photo the high part of the platform is where it crossed over the "H" structure, the dipping part was only supported by the underneath boards attached by wires to the cable. When you stood back and looked at the whole it appeared to run along like waves.

As when I was young, on this day I would not dare walk on the bridge, especially, as I had been told about its flood damage. However, one can enjoy it by standing on the creek's sloping bank and imagine the times when it provided a way to get across the creek for the farmer to feed his animals. It probably would have been an edgy experience if the creek was on a rampage..


RED LICK CREEK RUNNING LOW
Red Lick Creek runs shallow most of the time. One could wade across it or drive a truck through it. Here, I am looking from one side over to where the farm animals are kept. A barn can be seen across the creek. In this area one finds wildlife, mountains, farms, history, peace and quiet -- and a piece of material culture unnoticed for the most part -- the swinging wooden footbridge.

Another swinging footbridge can be viewed at the Arkansas Historic Preservation site, click here.

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