Spooky Covered Bridges
Covered bridges – like this one across the Haw River at Bynum – had little charm for those who used them.
Covered bridges have a nostalgic appeal for us today, being quaint relics of an idyllic past. But in their day, despite eliminating the need to ford the river, they were not so popular. Pictured above is the bridge over the Haw River at Bynum NC around the turn of the 20th century.
Lots not to like: obstructed views, spooky atmosphere, and the hazard of fire.
People using covered bridges tended to view the covering structures as ugly boxes that blocked their otherwise scenic view up and down river. And there was little solace in the brief shelter a covered bridge offered in inclement weather. Users were well aware that the superstructure was there to protect the bridge – not the traveler – from the elements. In the days before treated lumber, wood rotted quickly. A typical life span for a covered bridge was 30 to 40 years, while an uncovered bridge might last one-third as long.
In addition to obstruction, there was also a high trepidation factor. When confronted by a long, dark tunnel, a traveler must have found it downright spooky to enter the bridge in bright daylight, much less in the dark of night. In the photo below/left, notice the figure entering the bridge from the other end. Standing in bridge gloom with brilliant sunlight behind them, the person becomes unidentifiable, even surreal. Just imagine what that effect would be like with a long bridge like the one in Bynum.
When covered bridges were built for early railroads, another reservation could be added to the list: fire hazard. Wood-fired steam engines billowed sparks and glowing embers, and wooden bridges had a disconcerting habit of going up in the air as flame and smoke, and down into the river as char and ash. So much for covered bridges prolonging the life of the span.
The1920s brought a transition from old wooden bridges to modern spans of concrete and iron.
In 1922, the NC Highway Commission replaced the Bynum covered bridge with a concrete two-lane bridge as part of the Good Roads Movement. The 1922 bridge still stands as a pedestrian-only walkway across the Haw, but vehicles crossing the river now use a four-lane bridge just upstream on Hwy. 15-501. In the photo of the covered Bynum bridge, the farm house seen beyond the bridge has been renovated and is still a private residence, although it has been moved to a different location in Bynum.