Burning Bridges

Mt. Zion Covered Bridge, Washington County Kentucky (2010 photo)

In October of 2010 I traveled to Kentucky to visit my family and during that trip I did some research on covered bridges in Kentucky. Kentucky has several historic covered bridges and I found the Mt. Zion Covered bridge in the listings. The bridge, also known as the Beech Fork bridge, was built in 1871 and was the longest covered bridge in Kentucky. Located in Washington County, Ky, along highway 458 (Mt. Zion Road), the bridge spanned the Beech Fork Creek, north of Mooresville, Kentucky about 5 miles north of the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln.

I spent two days photographing the bridge, driving from my mother’s home near Louisville, a 90 mile round trip south of Louisville. My mother and my wife traveled with me, as we were all interested in seeing this bridge. I grew up in Kentucky and had traveled in this area a few times as a child, mostly to visit My Old Kentucky Home historic site near Bardstown, Ky and to see the Abraham Lincoln Homestead, but none of us recalled ever seeing this bridge before. In the back of my mind, I was probably thinking about the Clint Eastwood movie, Bridges of Madison County, about a photographer traveling around Iowa photographing historic covered bridges. My plan was to replicate something like that and see how many of Kentucky’s covered bridges I could photograph. Since I no longer lived in Kentucky, I knew it would take some time as I only traveled from Colorado to Kentucky every few years and most of the covered bridges were not that close to Louisville, where I grew up.

Along the drive to the bridge, we were in a very rural part of Kentucky east of Bardstown and as I drove up and down the rolling hills along the narrow country roads, I made the comment to my mother, “I have a weird feeling being here. It’s almost like deja vu, I don’t recall ever being here before, but somehow this part of Kentucky makes me feel as though I’m home, like I’m from here or something. It’s spooky” My mother indicated that “we had family that lived all over the state and maybe there is some type of cosmic connection you are feeling regarding our ancestors. I’ve never been here before.”

We blew it off and reached the site of the bridge, and I managed to make a few photographs of the historic structure with good light and a hint of Autumn color.

A couple of years after photographing the bridge, my mother contacted me to discuss my comments about having strange feelings about that part of Kentucky, my feeling like I had been there before and that it felt like home. She informed me that while researching our family genealogy, she had discovered her 4th great-grandfather, my 5th great-grandfather, Frederick Hill had founded the town of Fredericksburg, Kentucky in 1818. Fredericksburg is now known as Fredericktown, Kentucky and is located  on US Route 150 about 4 miles to the SW of the location of the bridge. My strange feelings were acknowledged. My family did indeed live in this area in the early 1800’s. As a matter of fact, my great-grandfather founded a town near this bridge.

The bridge in 2010 was still standing but was showing serious signs of disrepair and the inside was covered with graffiti and signs of abuse. It appeared to be a hang out for teenagers, as there were beer bottles, cans and even feces inside the covered area of the bridge. It was not being respected as the historic Kentucky landmark is was and it made me sad to see it that way.

In 2017, a group of people decided to restore the bridge and finished it by the end of the year. The results were astounding.

Mt. Zion Covered Bridge after being restored in 2017. (photograph by Chris Light – October 2019, via Wikipedia)

But things being as they are in rural Kentucky, restoring the bridge didn’t put an end to it being a hangout for vagrant teenagers and the graffiti soon began reappearing inside the bridge.

On March 9th of 2021 the bridge burned. The cause of the fire is unknown, but it is highly suspected to be arson. Here’s the news report from 2021.

Photograph by Washington County, Kentucky Sheriff’s Office.

It’s a sad ending to a wonderful family memory. I feel fortunate to have experienced the bridge with my mother and my wife and to have photographed a historic Kentucky landmark that had stood for over 150 years before being destroyed by miscreants. It now belongs to the ages.