The Celo Footbridges (continued)

{continued from yesterday…}

“What about Carson’s Rock?” said Shane. “Is that the bridge down new Ballew’s country store?”

Gib smiled, almost the same smile the young gas station attendant had given us when we told her what we were looking for and asked where on earth we might find it. “Yes, that’s the one,” said Gib. “This chart says that’s Bridge 303W and that sounds about right.”

“We found that bridge twice. But isn’t that number 302?” I laughed at our confusion. During our hurry and scurry to try and find all four bridges in one afternoon, we’d discovered the Carson’s Rock bridge and assumed that it was 302, which would have left one more bridge further south into the valley. We drove back and forth between Ballew’s and Busick (another six miles one way) several times scouting for Bridge 303. Exhasperated, we stopped at Ballew’s along Highway 80 and asked the young girl for directions. She sent as across the river at Colbert’s Creek Road, then left to parallel the river on the opposite bank. Twenty minutes later we’d whooped and hollered, thinking we’d finally found the fourth and final bridge along the South Toe. It wasn’t until we got out of the car that we realized it was the same bridge—just from the opposite side…and it wasn’t until talking with Gib and Annie that the bridge we found twice and had been calling 302 was in fact 303.

“We did manage to find the bridge off Hall’s Chapel Road,” Shane said. “But that should have been number 300 if they go in order, and the DOT says that bridge is closed.”

Gib scratched his beard and checked the maps again. “No, that closed bridge was further north on Hall’s Chapel, and that came down a long, long time ago. What you found was the next one, which must have been 301, but you thought it was 300. That’s why when you got to Carson’s Rock, you kept looking for one more bridge.”

By then I was plenty confused, but Shane nodded in agreement and asked Gib a few more questions. By the end of it, we understood that the DOT records were wrong and that we’d found all the bridges in Celo there were to find.

“You grew up with these bridges, then, didn’t you, Gib?” I asked. “What do you think inspired the DOT to put them in in the first place?”

“My understanding is that they were built to give access to the paved road. It was all about increasing access,” he said.

More than any DOT record we could have, this confirmed our query about why these footbridges existed in the first place. In researching the project initially, a state employee who helped us out came up dry at the DOT archives in Raleigh. When he searched for the original dates of construction for each bridge, he couldn’t find anything that predated 1947, though primary sources can tell you they remember crossing those bridges in the 1920’s and 30’s. Likewise, any list of initial criteria for having a bridge put in is missing. There are no pictures of George Canipe and his team in the archives and many of the original blueprints are missing as well.

Paperwork aside, our adventures in Celo taught us that sometimes the answers are behind a closed door. But if you can find your way there, you’re likely to be let in and fed a warm supper. If you stay a while, you’ll likely hear stories about those bridges that make them seem more alive than crossing them in person ever could.

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