Tucked away in the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains, you can find South Carolina’s oldest remaining bridge standing serenely by the edge of the road. With little fanfare in the way of destination markers, the Poinsett Bridge can easily be missed with the blink of an eye.
As part of our homeschooling journey, we have made it our objective to explore the rich history of the beautiful state we live in. This includes both the common, popular places and our favorite, the more ‘off the beaten path’ destinations. My family and I spent a sweltering July afternoon underneath the abundant shade of the surrounding forest while wading in Little Gap Creek, exploring the surrounding trails and our personal favorite, careening down the natural sliding rock into the small pool below. While a perfect place to spend a hot summer afternoon, there is much more history here than meets the eye. From a politician and ambassador of great historical significance to a celebrated architect to reported paranormal activities, the Poinsett Bridge has it all.
The bridge, complete with 15ft gothic style archways, was constructed in 1820 by the South Carolina Board of Public Works as part of a larger state road that connected Charleston through Columbia and Greenville and ultimately to Asheville. The bridge was named in honor of Mr. Joel Poinsett, who is best known in South Carolina’s history as being a Congressman, the US Ambassador to Mexico (from where he is credited with introducing the Poinsettia flower to the US) and he also served as President of the South Carolina Board of Public Works at the time of the bridge’s construction. The architecture of the bridge, however, is largely believed to be the work of South Carolina’s own Robert Mills, who’s most noted work is the Washington Monument. While it has not been wholly proven that Mills designed the bridge, two points arguably lead to this conclusion. A drawing made by Mills was found that exhibits the exact Gothic style arches and keystone used on the Poinsett Bridge. In addition to this, Mills was appointed Architect and Engineer of the Board of Public Works the same year that the bridge was constructed.
On the spookier end of the spectrum, it is reported that the bridge is the site of numerous unexplainable nighttime occurrences. While there are no residences or other sources of light in the immediate vicinity, lights are often reported to float towards the unlucky bystander or truth seeker (whichever you may be). These lights are many times said to be accompanied by talking or screams. Perhaps more concerning, for me at least, are the reports of the inability to start your vehicle to leave. Since our visit was during the daytime hours, I’ll have to take their word for it! Over the years, the bridge has been the site of multiple paranormal investigations with evidence to suggest that the reports are substantiated.
Haunted or not, the historical value of the Poinsett Bridge cannot be undermined and in agreement with my children, it has been one of our favorite ‘off the beaten path’ destinations in South Carolina so far!
Poinsett Bridge can be found by following US 25-N, merging right onto Old Highway 25 and then bearing right onto Callahan Mountain Road. There are signs along the highway to help direct you to this point. Farther down the road, the bridge will be on your left when you see a small fence and set of stairs. There is a gravel parking area on the right side of the road just past the stairs. The physical address used in GPS is 580 Callahan Mountain Road in Travelers Rest.
By Courtney Boone Riddle
Photos by Chas and Courtney Riddle♦