Photographs, Road Trips, Stories Told

The Byrd Creek bridge and dam

About ten years ago I went through a rough patch. I had overextended myself was teetering on the brink of exhaustion, and things weren’t going so well for me at home. So I took a bold step – I left my family at home, drove to Tennessee, rented a cabin in the woods, and spent a week getting my head back together. The cabin was at Cumberland Mountain State Park, which is between Nashville and Knoxville along the I-40 corridor.

I still had my first camera collection then, and I hadn’t shot with any of them since I was a teenager. So I dropped a roll of film into my mid-1960s Kodak Automatic 35F and took it along. Now, in those days I didn’t know my way around a camera with manual settings, which this one had. I didn’t even know what a light meter was and that this camera had one built in! So I was very much experimenting, and many of my photos didn’t turn out.

The centerpiece of Cumberland Mountain State Park is the dam and bridge on Byrd Creek. If you’re ever in the area, I urge you to drive this bridge. Whether you approach it from the east or the west you drive downhill to reach it, and as you round a gentle curve it seems to burst into view. It is a commanding presence, the kind that makes you gasp or sigh and perhaps even reel your head back a little. And so I was very glad that despite my terrible photographic skills the one photo I took of the bridge looked pretty good.

The trip was restful, and I drove home refreshed at its end.

My inner roadgeek and bridgefan was only just beginning to awaken in those days. This bridge stirred my budding interest, but I put everything nonessential in my life on hold as I tried, and failed, to fix what was wrong at home. After the divorce, I finally picked up that thread and started making road trips – click here to read about my first one. But as my love of the road deepened and my photographic skill increased I wished I could visit this bridge again.

As spring break approached this year, I tossed out a few options to my sons – a trip to Yosemite, a jaunt down old Route 66, or a relaxing time at a cabin in the woods. To my surprise and delight, they chose the cabin. I immediately made reservations at Cumberland Mountain State Park. Of course, I packed my camera! On the first sunny day it and I headed for the bridge.

Bridge and Dam

Say what you will about Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal programs, but the Civilian Conservation Corps certainly did some excellent work through the Great Depression. Working from 1935 to 1940, CCC workers built this structure of concrete and faced it in Crab Orchard stone, a kind of sandstone native to the area.

Bridge and Dam

The structure not only provided a bridge over Byrd Creek, but it dammed the creek as well to create Byrd Lake, forming the basis for this park. The water levels weren’t high enough on my first trip to trigger any spillage over the dam, but this time recent heavy rains had done the trick.

Bridge and Dam

The rushing water makes quite a ruckus!

I took these photos with my new Canon PowerShot S95. But I brought a vintage camera along too, a Zeiss-Ikon Contessa LK I had recently purchased. Like my old Kodak Automatic 35F, it’s a 1960s viewfinder camera with a built-in light meter. Soon I’ll have the film developed, and when I write about that camera here perhaps I’ll share more photos of this bridge.

Why do I like old cameras so much? Because I’m an engineer at heart, and I love all the intricate work in them. Read the whole story.

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