- [S78] Atchley Funeral Home Records, Volume I, 1930-1954, Larry D. Fox, (Smoky Mountain Historical Society), 13 Jan 1953.
Mack Campbell Atchley obituary
- [S106] The Mountain Press, 20 Aug 2012.
Upland Chronicles: Bridge collapse in 1961 created traffic woes
by CARROLL McMAHAN
Throughout its history, the town of Sevierville has endured numerous disasters such as devastating floods and destructive fires. But on Oct. 18, 1961, an unimaginable calamity befell the town.
On that fateful Wednesday afternoon a truck driver was crossing the East Prong of the Little Pigeon River in a concrete mixer truck. He was traveling northbound on the old Five Span Bridge when he felt vibrations below him. As the truck driver began to increase his speed, he discovered that the bridge was falling in behind him.
The driver was uninjured, but the truck lost its mud flaps.
Two spans of the bridge, which was at the entrance of Sevierville connecting Douglas Dam Road with U.S. 441 (Main Street,) fell at half-hour intervals. Only the wooden roadbed fell, leaving the steel structure standing.
The first span fell behind the truck into the Little Pigeon River about 2:15 p.m. A second span fell about 30 minutes later, almost taking Sevier County Trustee Joe Dockery with it.
Dockery, who along with other curious townspeople was out on the bridge looking over the damage, grasped the handrail just as several bolts broke loose allowing the span to fall into the river.
At the time of the collapse, the old bridge was at least 65 years old. The deed for the bridge was dated Oct. 28, 1895, and registered April 17, 1896, probably after the bridge was constructed.
It was built at the same time a similar bridge was constructed across the west prong of the Little Pigeon River at the end of Main Street. The two bridges were within sight of each other.
A rock foundation was constructed in the middle of each prong of the river to support each of the two suspension bridges. Both bridges had plank floors that were soon to rot and decay. The bridge over the west prong caused the most havoc since it was traveled more frequently than the east prong bridge. Before the bridges were even 20 years old they were often referred to as “ramshaks of a bridge.”
Sometime in the 1920s, the steel bridge over the west prong was removed and replaced by a new concrete structure. Later the west prong bridge was widened and used until 2006. After the TVA rechanneled the west prong following the floods of the 1960s, the bridge was sometimes referred to as “the dry land bridge.”
Because the northbound bridge spanning the east prong was used less and funding was inadequate, replacement of the outdated one-lane bridge was ignored until that fateful autumn day in 1961.
Although the old structure was rickety, views from the bridge were picturesque. Southbound travelers were afforded a panoramic eyeshot of the confluence of the west and east prong of the river on their right and an impressive glimpse of the old mill and mill dam on their left. In the immediate distance the courthouse tower unfolded with a majestic view of Mt. LeConte as a backdrop.
The collapse of the bridge caught everyone by surprise. Schoolchildren who crossed over the bridge in a school bus that morning were transported an additional 7 to 10 miles to reach their homes in the afternoon.
People living on the north side of the bridge, including residents of Kodak and Dandridge, had to travel the extra distance to reach their homes as well. The detour used by most was through the Lane Hollow to Allensville Road to Douglas Dam Road.
Funeral processions to cemeteries such as Alder Branch and Millican Grove along with those in Kodak were also routed through the unpaved, dusty Lane Hollow detour. In fact, the inconvenience was experienced in some manner by a large portion of the population of Sevier County.
The only alternative was a swinging bridge for pedestrians located behind Cliff Davis Motor Company connecting downtown with Love Addition.
While the swinging bridge was not an option for those living in remote sections of the county, many Love Addition residents chose to park in town and walk across the footbridge to their home, sometimes carrying groceries and other necessities.
The swinging bridge received so much traffic that a sign was posted stating that only four persons were allowed on it at a time. City police officers walked the footbridge as part of their beat to enforce the regulation and insure the safety of the pedestrians.
The State Highway Department had been considering plans for replacement of the bridge with a new two-lane concrete structure. The new bridge was scheduled to be built within a year.
State Rep. Fred C. Atchley went to work in Nashville to get work started on a new bridge as soon as possible. Therefore the replacement was named in his honor once it was completed.
The new bridge was built just east of the old structure. In time, the collapsed structure became dangerous and overgrown with vines. Finally, in 1973 the old Five Span Bridge was dismantled beam by beam and the Fred C. Atchley Bridge was widened to four lanes.
Today, thousands of visitors and local residents drive across the six-lane Fred C. Atchley Bridge daily. It is hard to image that once a simple one-lane suspension bridge with a wooden floor served the needs of the community. The hardships incurred by the bridge collapse over 50 years ago are a distant memory.
— Carroll McMahan is the special projects facilitator for the Sevierville Chamber of Commerce. The Upland Chronicles series celebrates the heritage and past of Sevier County. If you have suggestions for future topics, would like to submit a column or have comments, please contact Carroll McMahan at 453-6411 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org; or Ron Rader at 604-9161 or email to email@example.com.
- [S74] Atchley Funeral Home Records, Volume IV, 1987-1999, Larry D. Fox, (Smoky Mountain Historical Society), 10 Apr 1996.
Atchley, Fred Clyde 90 widowed by Elizabeth b. 8-20-05 Sev Co d. 4-10-96 SCH res 500 Park Rd Sev merchant & state representative f. Mack Atchley m. Elizabeth Watson educa 12 Shiloh Cem Survivors: 2 dau Carolyn Marshall 229 Cherry St Sev Charlotte Crutchfield GA gc Libby & Bob Case FL Sandy Kolinsky Knox Jimmy Fred & Am[off page] Marshall Crutchie & Nancy Crutchfield Danner & Tammie Crutchfieldggc Fred A & Barbara Atchley Sev Emily Atchley FL Nikki & Tye Marshall Sev Elisabeth Allen Critchfield Lawrence Crutchfield Carter Crutchfield Chandler Crutchfield 1 bro Amos Atchley FL owned Sev County's first supermarket & rolling store & Atchley-Conner Motor Co served 24 yrs in TN House of Representatives where he was known as "the Little Flower" mem 1st Bapt Ch Sev & many civic organizations.