Spans of the Past (Lake Living Spring 2020)


Story from Lake Living Spring 2020

Broken Bridges - Past, Present and Future

By Tom Law

  • Tom Law / On an early spring day, a Lake Hartwell boater makes his way between the spans of Broken Bridges – traveling directly on the state line of Georgia and South Carolina.
    Tom Law / On an early spring day, a Lake Hartwell boater makes his way between the spans of Broken Bridges – traveling directly on the state line of Georgia and South Carolina.

A Toccoa landmark is about to receive new life, as the Broken Bridges area in Toccoa is set to become a focal point of a 10-mile waterway trek.

Broken Bridges over the Tugaloo River arm of Lake Hartwell has been a landmark along the Georgia/South Carolina border for well over 140 years.

The bridge, which had its center span removed to prevent vehicular traffic, started its border existence intact, of course.

The original bridge was constructed sometime in the 1870s and was used as a railroad trestle for the Richmond and Danville Railroad (later known as the Southern Railway Company) until 1896.

Increased railroad traffic in northeast Georgia and western upstate South Carolina had increased so much by about 1915, the railroad decided it needed a double track instead of the single track in place at the time.

Work on building a new railbed big enough to support double tracking began in 1917, and was completed sometime around 1918. This moved the railroad tracks some distance northward from Broken Bridges as Southern Railway constructed a viaduct over the Tugaloo River which remains in use today.

Although no longer in use by the railroad, the bridge remained a key part of the landscape as it allowed vehicular traffic on the Toccoa-Westminster, South Carolina Highway (U.S. Highway 123) to pass over the river.

In 1940, a new bridge was built in what is called a “camelback truss” style.

It remained in use until the early 1960s when the Corps of Engineers built Hartwell Dam and Lake Hartwell formed behind its concrete walls.

That was the time when a new automobile bridge and improved Highway 123 was constructed, leaving what would become Broken Bridges abandoned downstream.

Around 1962, when the new bridge opened to traffic, the center span of the bridge was removed and Broken Bridges was created.

However, that missing center span remains an active part of upstate South Carolina today.

It was moved north to Cobb’s Bridge Road, where it still spans the Chauga River near Riley Moore Falls in Oconee County, South Carolina.

Since the 1960s, the area around Broken Bridges has been known for its fishing opportunities with the Corps of Engineers adding picnic tables and two boat ramps to form Stephens County Park.

The park, and its center spanless bridge structure, for years has attracted visitors to fish, boat or simply soak in the solitude that often permeates the area.

Early mornings are favored by many visitors as a cool mist often arises from the lake’s waters to create an even more picturesque setting.

The Broken Bridges area is about to receive an injection of newfound visitor energy.

That’s because the Tugaloo River Water Trail group plans to make the area a focal point of its newly-designated 10-mile waterway trek.

Just downstream from the venerable structure will be the southernmost takeout point for the water trail, which begins 10 miles northward near Yonah Dam.

The Corps of Engineers, the Stephens County government and the water trail stakeholders partnered to clear trees and strangling underbrush from the takeout area leaving dogwoods and other native trees for their scenic value.

The Broken Bridges site will be the last of three access points to the water trail which beckons kayakers and canoeists from across the southeast.

“The Tugaloo River’s main tributary is the Chattooga River which is branded as a ‘wild and scenic’ waterway,” Angie Ramage, a water trail stakeholder said. “We want to brand the Tugaloo River as ‘wild and beautiful’ because it is.”

From its boisterous, smoke-filled beginning days as a thoroughfare for locomotives and rail cars, through its transition to motor cars and now a major site for outdoor recreational activity, Broken Bridges continues to entice a variety of visitors.


Where is Broken Bridges?

• Take U.S. Highway 123 North from Toccoa toward Westminster. Travel about 6 miles and look for the turn to Stephens County Park just before crossing Lake Hartwell and into South Carolina. Go to the end of the park road.