Poinsett Bridge in Greenville SC

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History of the Poinsett Bridge

Life before the Poinsett Bridge

stone bridge with gothic arch spanning creek
View of the Poinsett Bridge

As you drive along Callahan Mountain Rd near Landrum on your way to the Poinsett Bridge it’s easy to take our modern ease of movement for granted. But it hasn’t always been this easy to get from one place to another.

A Road Was Needed and the Poinsett Bridge Would Be Part of it

Two hundred years ago, it was very difficult to get from the coastal regions of South Carolina to the upstate, and even harder to get through to the mountainous region to the north. Goods from the upstate couldn’t be easily transported to ports in Charleston, and at the same time goods coming from overseas where hard to transport even as far as Colombia.

Towns and settlements were growing up in western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee. With no reliable connection to these settlements, South Carolina was not benefiting from westward expansion.

The situation was only made worse after the War of 1812. With the United States now firmly in control of the Louisiana Territory, riverboats could transport goods from the Ohio Valley along the Mississippi to the port of New Orleans. The port of Charleston was in decline.

The Poinsett Bridge and The State Road

Stone marker that reads: "This Bridge on the State Road from Greenville to Asheville was built in 1820 by Abram Blanding acting commissioner of board of public works Joel R Poinsett President - Marker placed by Nathanial Greene Chapter Daughters of American Revolution"
Marker at Poinsett Bridge

Calls to improve the state’s infrastructure began to rise. This interest in “internal improvements” led the South Carolina legislature in 1818 to appropriate one million dollars to build roads, canals, and public buildings throughout the state.

Initially most of the interest was in building canals in and around Charleston. But more was needed, and so the State Road was conceived. It would run from Charleston to Columbia and then on to the upstate. From the South Carolina upstate, the Saluda Gap Road would complete a connection to NC and TN.

In early 1820 stonemasons and other skilled workers were brought in, and work on the State Road began in the lowcountry. As Spring moved into Summer, and with it malaria season, the workers were moved to the Upstate to start work on the Saluda Gap Road.

Stonework at top of Poinsett Bridge
Stonework along the top of the Poinsett Bridge

By July 17, 1820 around 500 locally hired laborers were hard at work. The road and three bridges were completed in only three and a half months. The only bridge still standing today is the Poinsett Bridge named after Joel Poinsett.

Poinsett was not only the president of the Board of Public Works at the time, but was later appointed the first US Ambassador to Mexico and is credited with introducing the poinsettia to the United States.

Is the Poinsett Bridge Connection with the Washington Monument?

Stone bridge arch with creek running through
Poinsett Bridge Gothic Arch

Some people think that the Poinsett Bridge was designed by noted South Carolina architect Robert Mills. Most famous as the designer of the Washington Monument, The US Treasury Building, and the original US Patent Office Building, Mills served on the Board of Public works in the 1820’s and drawings of the bridge were found in his papers.

His connection with the bridge is, however, doubted by many historians. As Mills didn’t join the Board of Public works until after the construction of the Poinsett Bridge, and he was not even living in South Carolina at the time, having worked a number of years in Baltimore. It’s possible that Mills did design the bridge before returning home, and the unique design of the Poinsett Bridge hints at someone of Mills skill being the designer.

The bridge itself is unusual in that it features a 14 foot Gothic Arch. It stretches 130 feet across the Little Gap Creek. Today the old stone bridge is the centerpiece of the Poinsett Bridge Heritage Preserve, a 120 acre park owned by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and maintained by the Greenville County Recreation Department.

Visiting the Poinsett Bridge

Stone Bridge with creek flowing under gothic arch
Poinsett Bridge in Spring

Along with the bridge there are a few hiking trails in the park, but be aware that they run through private property, so keep this in mind during your walk and take appropriate precautions. Otherwise you can walk along the bank of the Gap Creek and even walk under the Gothic Arch of the .

The climb down to the foot of the Poinsett Bridge can be a little steep. So if you have a hard time walking, best to stay topside. But you can really get a better view of the creek and the wildflowers from the top of the bridge. And if you get tired there’s a nice seating area nearby.

Dogs are allowed, but just keep them on a leash and signs say that no one is allowed in the park after dark, although there aren’t any gates. If you do brave this bridge after dark, you should know that it’s been the subject of many ghost stories. Visitors have reported hearing strange sounds, seeing floating orbs of light, or even man shaped mists walking across the bridge. One person even reported feeling their hand grabbed by an otherworldly spirit. If you’re at all squeamish, best to do what the sign says and stay away from this Poinsett Bridge at night.

Fast Facts about the Poinsett Bridge

Type:Historic Site – Roadside Attraction – Stone Bridge
Location:580 Callahan Mountain Rd, Landrum, SC 29356
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Things to do: Walking trails, dog walking, bird watching, photography

Map to the Poinsett Bridge