Saturday, July 7, 2018

Watson Mill Bridge State Park

Built in 1885 and spanning 229 feet across the South Fork River, Watson Mill Bridge is the longest covered bridge in Georgia...and it's still operational more than 130 years later! Today, it's part of Watson Mill Bridge State Park and it's listed on the National Register of Historic Places


Watson Mill Bridge State Park | Photo: Travis S. Taylor
Watson Mill Bridge State Park | Photo: Travis S. Taylor

We had enjoyed lunch at The National in Athens on the way to see Watson Mill Bridge, and a good thing because we needed the energy for the hiking we did on what must have been the hottest day of the year, so far. But that didn't quell our enthusiasm for enjoying this remarkable state park.


Watson Mill Bridge State Park | Photo: Travis S. Taylor
Watson Mill Bridge State Park | Photo: Travis S. Taylor

Watson Mill Bridge State Park has been called "one of the most picturesque state parks in Georgia", and for good reason...it's beautiful! We were not the only ones there making photos that day. 

Not at all crowded, there were a number of people enjoying the park that day. Some were exploring, some were taking a walk, and some were cooling their feet in the water below the dam. A wholly relaxing visit, this state park is less than two hours from the heart of Atlanta.


Watson Mill Bridge State Park | Photo: Travis S. Taylor
Watson Mill Bridge State Park | Photo: Travis S. Taylor

I'm grateful to my friend Wayne—a state park and historic site expert—for playing tour guide here. He'd been before, but went again because of my excitement for wanting to see it. I'm not sure which state park or historic site we'll see next, but I'm already looking forward to it!


Watson Mill Bridge State Park | Photo: Travis S. Taylor
Watson Mill Bridge State Park | Photo: Travis S. Taylor

The bridge was built by Washington (W.W.) King, son of freed slave and famous covered-bridge builder Horace King. The bridge is supported by a Town lattice truss system held firmly together with wooden pins. 

John T. King, another of Horace's sons, was one of the contractors who built the Negro Building at the 1895 Cotton States and International Exposition here in Atlanta.


Watson Mill Bridge State Park | Photo: Travis S. Taylor
Watson Mill Bridge State Park | Photo: Travis S. Taylor

There once were 200 covered bridges in Georgia, but today only about 20 have survived. If you see only one in the whole of Georgia, I hope you get to see Watson Mill Bridge!


Watson Mill Bridge State Park | Photo: Travis S. Taylor
Watson Mill Bridge State Park | Photo: Travis S. Taylor

There are lots of activities to avail oneself of while visiting Watson Mill Bridge State Park, including paddle boating (available seasonally). There's hiking, biking, camping, and you can bring your own horse and use their stable and horseback riding trails, too!


Watson Mill Bridge State Park | Photo: Travis S. Taylor
Watson Mill Bridge State Park | Photo: Travis S. Taylor

Within the 1,018 acres of the state park are former sites of a grist mill (1868-1904) for corn and wheat and a former hydroelectric plant (1905-1954) that provided power for a cotton mill 12 miles away in Crawford, Georgia.

We visited the site of the "Old Powerhouse Ruins" (pictured above) not far from the park office on a picturesque trail along the South Fork River.


Watson Mill Bridge State Park | Photo: Travis S. Taylor
Watson Mill Bridge State Park | Photo: Travis S. Taylor

The dam was built at the same time as they hydroelectric plant. I doubt L. Frank Edwards, who purchased the land from Watson, could have imagined how much the dam contributed to the beauty of the Watson Mill Bridge.


Watson Mill Bridge State Park | Photo: Travis S. Taylor
Watson Mill Bridge State Park | Photo: Travis S. Taylor

There are picnic areas on both sides of the bridge, so bring a picnic and make a day of your visit! 


Watson Mill Bridge State Park | Photo: Travis S. Taylor
Watson Mill Bridge State Park | Photo: Travis S. Taylor

There's a wonderful small "museum" at the park's office and a park ranger there to answer your questions (and this is where you pay to park, only $5). There are a number of taxidermy animals in the museum showing visitors what they might see as they explore the park. There's also an interesting "Stories in Stumps" display that chronicles world (and lunar) events that occured during the lifetime of a tree that grew from 1902 to 1988. 

Bringing back childhood memories, there's a big sign of Woodsy Owl sharing his '70s campaign message—"Give a Hoot—Don't Pollute". What a blast from the past and what a relevant message even today!

Watson Mill Bridge State Park is a bit of a drive from Atlanta, less than two hours though, so I recommend making a day of it like we did. We dined in Athens on the way and after visiting the park we went and explored the Georgia Guidestones. We went at a leisurely pace, but were still back in the city with the whole evening ahead of us!

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