History of Gallatin County, Part 10
We have an old covered, wooden bridge in Sparta. It is a long bridge for the size of the stream it crosses; spanning both Eagle Creek and the mill race that runs beside the creek. The part over the island and mill-race is a long open span while that which crosses the creek is covered.
It connects Owen and Gallatin counties, also the two parts of Sparta, known as old Sparta in Owen county (this part of the town was here before the railroad was built) and Sparta in Gallatin county.
This bridge was built in 1873 according to the memory of some of the older folk of our town. It took the place of a ferry boat when Eagle creek was high, and fording in dry weather. Needless to say, in the fifty-five years of the bridge's history, it has been next to the L & N railroad, the most important factor in the life of the little town of Sparta.
Sparta, with its classic name and its houses stringing out along the four roads, all of which converge on the short Main street where the little group of business houses are, on each side with the depot at one end and a church at the other. Back and forth across the bridge, from church and stores and depot on the Gallatin side to school and church and mill on the Owen side have hurried the restless feet of children; loitered the feet of lovers; stepped quick and firm the feet of men and women as they went about their daily occupation. Just above the bridge is the dam which holds back a fine pool of water and below this, under and beyond the bridge, the creek runs over broad flat ledges of rock and in times of drouth forms three beautiful pools of clear water. A road runs down to the creek from the big barn on the Gallatin side that used to shelter the mules used to draw the many heavy wagons to the depot, also the horses used to operate the two bus lines to Sparta, out from Owenton and the other from Warsaw. Crossing the open span of the bridge fifteen years ago one would often see the tired horses drinking and resting at these pools.
Here the two churches, Baptist and Christian, held their baptismal services until a few years ago. The people stood on the rocky ledges and along the banks under the sycamore trees, joining in the sweet strains of some grand old hymn, which would float up to the ones standing on the bridge, until hushed by the minister's hand and the solemn "I pledge thee my brother (or sister) in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen." Then the hymn would begin again until the service was ended and the crowd, which was always large, wended its way homeward, or across the bridge to the church.
Not far from the bridge on the Owen side still stands the old mill which was one of the first buildings in Sparta and about it clustered the little group of log houses that were the nucleus of the present town. Their the mill has passed the century mark and is still grinding the best of water-ground corn meal for mush, muffins, and johnny cakes. Important as the little bridge has been to the little town, it's greatest contribution to the development of this section has been the road it was built to serve.
This old road was the connecting line between the older settlement in the bluegrass and Warsaw, the county seat of Gallatin, on the river, nine miles from Sparta. Thirteen miles back from the bridge is Owenton, county seat of Owen county.
About a mile from Sparta this road to Owenton climbs a long hill from which the beautiful view across the Eagle Creek valley and lower hills has delighted they eyes of many travelers. At the top of this hill you start on what is known as Long Ridge, on through Owenton and for about eleven miles or more beyond you travel the highest road in this part of the country, until down another hill brings you to Redoak Creek and you have passed through one of the original homes of the burley tobacco and where some of the finest of the weed is still grown.
From here the road goes on to Stamping Ground in Scott county. Not far from here you seem to step across a line that divides this beautiful hill country from the bluegrass region, dear to the heart of every Kentuckian. A few miles more past the rich farms and fine old homes, set far back from the roads, and you are in Georgetown, county seat of Scott county.
Leaving Sparta to go to the Ohio river, you climb a long hill and out over ridges and down another hill along the banks of a tiny creek, up a hill again, along the road that curves delightfully. Coming out at last on a high hill overlooking the Ohio river valley, and the little town of Warsaw on the river bank, the spires of its churches and court house rise from among the lovely shade trees that line the streets. If you are fortunate enough, take this drive to Warsaw when the redbuds are in bloom in the springtime; looking out over the hills glowing with pink and tenderest green, you think yourself in fairyland.
Over the fifty miles or more of this road from Bluegrass to the Ohio river passed the early settlers to the fertile and beautiful Ohio valley; a little later settlers for the timbered hills and Eagle Creek valley, who felled the magnificent trees and built sturdy and comfortable log houses, some of which are still standing. Then, as the farms were developed, corn, cattle, horses and tobacco must find a market. The livestock could be taken to the bluegrass and sold to the farmers, or to Owenton and sold on County Court Day, that red letter day for farmers.
But tobacco, corn, chickens and butter must go to Warsaw and wait for the coming of the boats that would carry it on to the city markets. So back and forth went the heavy wagons often drawn by teams of oxen. The drivers dreaded the ford at Sparta for if the creek were high it meant a long delay. Over this road in the stirring days of the early sixties gathered the soldiers of both north and south in this section where often brother went against brother and sometimes father against son, often neighbors or kinsmen arrayed against each other would pass within a few hours of each other along this road.
The war over, peace and poverty settled down on the hill counties for a time. Then came the railroad up through the Eagle Creek valley connecting Louisville and Cincinnati, now a part of the great L & N system. Then about four years later, this bridge at Sparta.
Burley tobacco brought good prices and Owen county burley (which includes all the adjoining counties) gained a reputation on the Louisville market and, coming from miles around, big hogsheads of it were piled on the platform of the Sparta Depot, to ship. Saddle horses, too, brought a good price and the many teams used on this road from the early “seventies” [1870's] until about 1915 required timothy hay, so there was a fine market for that at home. Then came the auto busses and trucks and the long haul became a short one and many have thought with this great leap forward has come the end of our old bridge, as it was feared that it was too weak for the heavy trucks, but so far it is still staunchly standing.