(The photo to the left shows Aubrey on site of the Rebuilding of the Auchumpkee Creek Bridge.)
The Auchumpkee Creek Bridge
Americans have long had a love affair with covered bridges. There is something very romantic about going to one of these "kissing bridges" with your sweetheart. There have also been stories of ghosts haunting covered bridges, attempting to communicate with the living.
Floodwaters destroyed West Central Georgia's Auchumpkee Creek Covered Bridge in July of 1994. It was located about 10 miles east of Thomaston, Georgia, and was originally constructed in 1892. The Auchumpkee Creek Bridge was 120 feet long, spanned 96 feet, and was built by the firm of Herring and Alford.
. The bridge design selected was the Town Lattice design, which was patented by Ithiel Town in 1820. It was the last remaining covered bridge in Upson County, and was restored in 1985 by the Upson Preservation Commission. Some of the earliest settlers in the county lived in the area in a small community called Hootenville.The bridge was 102 years old when the Great Flood of 1994 hit central Georgia. Rising creek waters pushed it over the bank and hurled it into the surrounding trees, as well as the more recent concrete bridge located a few feet downstream.
Less than three years later, Arnold Graton and Associates, from Ashland, New Hampshire, were contracted by the County Commissioners to rebuild the Auchumpkee Creek bridge. Brothers Arnold and Austin Graton learned how to construct wooden bridges from their father, Milton, at an early age.
The family started moving, repairing, and rebuilding wooden bridges in the early 1950s, when a number of flood control projects that called for such expertise began in New England.
Arnold told this writer that he thought his family got into such work because they had a need to preserve the past. He also said it was an attractive occupation to his family beause of the uniqueness of the profession, as well as having an opportunity to see much of the country. He also stated that since all covered bridges are a little bit different that there is not much monotony.
When asked about what was used of the old Auchumpkee Creek Bridge in the restoration process, Arnold stated there was a lot of debris left over after the flood, and that up to 30 % of the old bridge was used in the new one. Several original parts, such as floor joists, roof tie beams, some lattice pieces, trunnels, and four original heel plates were all reused.
This writer had the privilege of having Arnold and his son J. R., as well as Austin and his wife Lynn on his television program, "Keeping in Touch" on WCOX-TV in Macon, Georgia. The show was taped in early 1998, Work on the new bridge was completed in late 1997.
Arnold said that the cost of rebuilding the 96-foot long structure was $209,000. The original 1892 bridge cost $1,199. The majority of the money to complete the rebuilding project came from tax dollars via FEMA and from the Upson County Historical Preservation Commission. However, when funds ran low, local real estate agent Bobby C. Smith spearheaded the drive to raise the remaining $42,000. The Gratons made no profit whatsoever, only breaking even on the project.
While preparing for the TV interview, this author met several times with Arnold to discuss the project, and came away with great respect for the Graton family and their love of preserving our history.
The Gratons are known nationally for these endeavors, and have been featured in several magazines including Life, Time, and National Geographic. The John Deere Company made a film about them, and they were interviewed twice by CBS correspondent Charles Kuralt’s for his "On the Road" program.
There have also been numerous other newspaper and magazine articles and book references about the family.
Arnold said that wooden bridges usually last 100 or more years if they stay high and dry, while concrete bridges only last about 30 years in the South and 25 in the North.
The major enemies of covered bridges are fallen tree limbs, storms, floodwaters, termites, fires, cars, dirt, and vandalism. Because most covered bridges only have one lane, and because automobile weight, speed, and height are also hazards for them, society has outgrown the need for these lovely old bridges.
The rebuilding of the Auchumpkee Creek Covered Bridge took about three years from start to finish. However, some of that time the construction crew was stymied because of hot weather and supply problems.
They also used the old timer’s method of building the frame of the bridge on the creek bank, and then using oxen, horses, and mules and a block and tackle rig to pull the 38 ton structure into place across the creek. It was also raised about two additional feet to prevent any future flood damage.
The roof was completed using cedar shingles, which were cut in the Upson County area. These shingles should last 40 to 60 years. Additionally, the new bridge can easily support 15 tons.
This writer was present the day the horses pulled the structure the final few feet across the creek and was impressed with the strength of the oxen, horses, and mules. The framework was pulled a total of 340 feet across the creek, although this was not done in one day. This was an extremely memorable feat that most would not have believed possible.
For additional reading about the Graton Family see the late Milton Graton's book "The Last of the Covered Bridge Builders," published in 1990. It is still available on the internet.