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Have you heard of the old dirt road from Knoxville by way of Sevierville to Newport, Tennessee? It is on this road that the covered bridge spans Little East Fork of Pigeon Rivers. Our early settlers in looking for home sites chose a spring, a stream with fall enough for a mill, also good land for clearing. The first bridge here may have been a fallen tree across East Fork. The first settler we know of was Mr. Hill. His grave is in Red Bank Cemetery. Perhaps it is he who built a bridge, a dam and a mill. The remains of the first dam may be seen today.

The dam, a bridge and a mill were the beginning of the busy little place known as Harrisburg. The importance of the road required a bridge. It was on this route that Longstreet traveled in his retreat from Knoxville into Virginia, but not over the bridge of today.

Who traveled this road?

The first road may have been on an Indian trail following Little East Fork. Walkers, horse back riders, buggies, covered wagons, fringed carriages with colored drivers and what excitement when the first automobile passed. Farmers with droves of sheep passed by on the way to Newport the nearest market. Days later men with cattle passed this way. Often hogs were led by some one dropping corn to encourage them to follow. There was always a horse-back rider and more than one man walking. The animals often hesitated when entering the bridge. Residents nearby were not surprised to hear at night the sound of horses feet crossing the bridge at intervals. This was the time of road overseers who called the men of the district to do road work. Each man of legal age worked a number of days on the road.

The bridge has never been private property, and to assume that it has been restored is an untruth. County and state funds maintained the up keep through the years.

The flood of 1875 washed away the first dam and mill and bridge. Soon after the flood the large plantation changed ownership. The mill was on this plantation. Mr. McNutt a Confederate officer of the Civil War exchanged property with Alexander Umbarger of Virginia. Plans were made by Mr. Umbarger for rebuilding the mill and dam. This brought a new migration to Sevier County and is the beginning of the Harrisburg Bridge as it stands today. Among the group who came by wagon train was the Early family; the men were skilled engineers, millwrights and carpenters, as evidence of their ability is close observance of the bridge. The structure is a standard pattern. The Early's were millwrights in that they built other mills in Sevier County and one in North Carolina with the name Sian Early still visible today.

Under ownership of Mr. Umbarger and son-in-law Hines, the mill became a roller mill, one of the first in this county. Harrisburg became the second business place.

On one side of the dam was a mill, on opposite side a saw mill. Perhaps it was core that material was sawed for the bridge. Observe the big timber of which it was constructed. The blacksmith shop was very interesting. Farmers brought their horses to be shod, plows to be sharpened and other needs. The smith made useful items from scrap iron such as dogirons and shovels.

Farmers were most important in that they raised the grain to be ground into flour and corn meal. They came to the mill on horseback, some carried the corn walking and some came in wagons. It was great excitement for children when the steam engine came through the bridge pulling a big thrashing machine.

Next in progress was RFD. Our address became Sevierville, Rt. 1 with M. Eckel carrier.

Have you heard of the importance of a party phone line? Our line began at Cosby, Tenn. by way of Jones Cove, Rainbow, Eldee and Harrisburg to Sevierville. There were two phones at Harrisburg, one for the doctor and one for the store. The doctor made his own batteries. When one phone rang they all rang. Sometimes one ring, two short rings, and a long and short ring. The line finally became useless and was discarded.

Harrisburg had a typical country store in that it was a social gathering place for the men who had some time off from work in bad weather. The store had for sale hardware, coal oil, cloth, shoes, tobacco and snuff, groceries and other various needs of the people.

In 1900 the store was owned by W. I. and Gates Marshall, local county twin brothers. Soon after the property changed ownership. The mill was owned by A. C. Layman and the store known as Layman Bros. Fifteen years of good business followed. What became of the busy place known as Harrisburg?


The old dirt road from Knoxville to East Fork of Pigeon River became a pike road as it was called. In 1915 the road was to be extended to Jefferson County line.

The road by-passed Harrisburg by one fourth mile. Business began to fail. Today four houses remain that were built by the Early family.

How long did it take to build the bridge of Harrisburg? First big trees were on the plantation to be cut in big logs and brought by horse power to the saw mill. The saw mill must be restored after the flood. Boards must be hand made for the covering. The timber must be dried. All this required some time.

By 1910 the bridge needed a new cover. A local citizen, Mr. Burns was in charge. Two little boys living near by climbed on top of the bridge and helped remove the old boards. One of these boys now living, age seventy-seven remembers a date 1887 - in large letters written on the South entrance.

In recent years some thought the bridge was no longer needed and to maintain the up keep was a waste of money. There were many who helped to keep it.

No one appreciates the bridge more than the children who grew to be adults at the time of its great usefulness. The music of the time was the sound of water over the dam, the grinding of grain in the mill, the clanking of chains on the wagons by farmers going to work. At wheat harvest one could always find three or four ripe blackberries.

Today one seldom sees a Wheatfield and the old order has passed away. The change is from agriculture to industry and tourism.

Harrisburg has had doctors to care for anyone in need of the service. The first one known is Dr. Hodgson, living on a large plantation known as Rose Glen. Sometime in the 1880 to 1890. Dr. Fred Cates lived at Harrisburg. Next came Dr. John Elder 1890-1903. Dr. Elder was from Jefferson County, a graduate of East Tenn. Medical College, class of 1898-1899. He traveled horseback to out places as Dutch Settlement, Green Brier, Gatlinburg, Boggertown and North of the River. Dr. Huffaker came here about 1901. Other people of talent at Harrisburg were Mr. & Mrs. Steve Hines owners of the mill, In 1900 they sponsored a private school for the children two sessions (1901). The teacher was Miss Alice Deaderick from Knoxville.

Down stream, one mile on Little East Fork a one room school was built in 1897. It was a public school and children and grown-up boys and girls attended from a radius of more than one mile. The school house known as Long Spring stands today as a symbol of its former usefulness.

The Harrisburg bridge still spans Little East Fork. Those crossing the bridge will do well to read a sign Load Limit.

In recent years heavy trucks loaded with rock, coal and grain dared to cross the covered bridge. A pier was erected under the bridge. This has helped to strengthen it. Some used the bridge as sport in that rocks were thrown against the weather boarding. This was a great damage. The bridge was repaired; the carpenters replaced the weaker boarding and small windows were made. This was not the original plan. The original bridge had no windows.

Time has made great change. Part of the plantation remained as the property of the Umbarger family for over one hundred years. Graves in Murphy Chapel cemetery are the resting place of Earlys and Umbarger families. The bridge stands today as a memorial to their industry.

Grave of Elbert Early builder of the bridge may be Newport, Tenn.

Sevier County officials built a two-room school building less than one hundred yards of the bridge. Presently it is used in the Head Start Program.

Special recognition is given to a young doctor who came to the community (1908?). Namely, Dr. John Ogle. It was here that he won a beautiful young lady for his wife. They moved elsewhere and his brother, Dr. Ashley Ogle came. The Dr. Ogles were greatly appreciated for their ability to care for those in need of medical attention. They were friends of the people.

No one is more important than the farmers. Their good citizenship is demonstrated by the children they brought up to become useful men and women.

Mr. and. Mrs. Bill Maner came to Harrisburg in the early nineteen hundreds (1911). They are the parents of Charles Maner, a Knoxville lawyer. While living here, Charles walked five miles to Sevier County High School. His father was employed by Mr. D. S. Umbarger.

The women were very special in that they had many duties as home-makers, such as cooking good meals for the family, sewing, gardening canning fruits and vegetables, help with milking cows, and churning butter. There was no complaining about preparing the very best meals at harvest and thrashing wheat time. They did their very best with as much concern as if it were a grand social event, which it was.

Up stream from the bridge of Little East Fork less than one mile is a natural formation known as "The Arch Rock." The name describes it. Eons of time required its formation. One wonders how! The children and young adults usually made one or more trips to this place each summer. This place must have been a camping place for early travelers. Arch Rock play have been a focal point in early land grants. There is some evidence of these possibilities. It was a Mecca for the children.

Mary Elder [Author?]

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