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Federal grant to fund sprinklers and repairs at Elizabethton Covered Bridge

John Thompson • Apr 8, 2008 at 12:00 AM

ELIZABETHTON — The most photographed structure in Carter County should remain standing well into the 21st century, thanks to a $320,000 grant from the Federal Highway Administration.

U.S. Rep. David Davis, R-1st District, announced the grant on Monday. The grant was written by Elizabethton Planning Director David Ornduff and Tammy Allison Sellers, state historic preservation supervisor with the Tennessee Department of Transportation.

Ornduff said the bridge last received restoration work in 2001 when the city received a $98,000 grant. That work was completed in October 2002.

“We knew at that time we would need additional work on the bridge,” Ornduff said.

He said he was contacted by Sellers last May, and they discussed a possible grant application.

“I told her we would most certainly be interested in applying for the grant,” which would include an $80,000 match from the city, bringing the total amount to $400,000.

Ornduff said one of the highlights of the grant will be the installation of a sprinkler system for fire protection. There have been several cases of arson to historic covered bridges in the nation over the past several years. While there have been no such incidents in Elizabethton, Ornduff sees the installation as an important safeguard in ensuring the bridge’s long-term survival.

A sprinkler system also would be a valuable asset for the fire department in the event there was ever a fire, since the middle of the span would most likely be inaccessible to firefighters once the bridge was engulfed in flames.

Elizabethton Fire Chief Mike Shouse said the bridge is exposed to the elements and freezing temperatures, so the sprinkler would have to be a dry-pipe system and would require an air compressor.

The funds also will be used for replacement of steel rods and thrust bearings, replacement of miscellaneous timber elements, repair and repainting of clapboard siding.

The Covered Bridge was built in 1882 at a cost to the county of $3,000 for the bridge and $300 for the approaches to the bridge.

The bridge was designed by Thomas E. Matson, an engineer who also helped build the East Tennessee and Western North Carolina narrow gauge railroad through the mountains. Matson also served as mayor of Johnson City and president of Johnson City Foundry and Machine Works.

Funds for the project come from the Federal Highway Administration’s National Historic Covered Bridge Preservation Program.

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