Monday, November 5, 2012

A Chill at Helen's Bridge--Asheville, North Carolina (Photos)


Helen's Bridge
Over College Street between 
Windswept Drive and Beaucatcher Road
Asheville, North Carolina

Helen's Bridge, photo 2012 by Lewis Powell IV. All rights
reserved.
Celebrated in legend and literature, the Zealandia Bridge, often known as “Helen’s Bridge” spans College Street as it rises up Beaucatcher Mountain towards Beaucatcher Road. The rustic stone bridge was constructed as a carriageway for the Zealandia Estate in 1909. It was designed by R. S. Smith, who worked as an architect on the building of the nearby Biltmore Estate. The looming structure has been threatened at least twice, once during the building of nearby Interstate 240 when supports were added to protect the structure during nearby blasting. Then in 1998 with the supports still in place and stones falling from it the city considered demolishing the structure. Local history buffs and preservationists won the fight and the supports were carefully removed. The bridge was structurally quite sound and it has recently been bought by the city to use as part of a greenway.

One of Asheville’s favorite sons, writer Thomas Wolf, walked under the bridge many times while growing up and included it in a passage in his most notable work, Look Homeward, Angel. But it is perhaps the lore of the bridge that draws most. The legend speaks of a woman named Helen who lived near the bridge with her beloved daughter. After she lost her daughter in a fire the distraught Helen hung herself from the bridge. Her anguished spirit is said to still appear to motorists and curious teens out for a scare.

Helen's Bridge detail, photo 2012 by Lewis Powell IV. All rights
reserved.
The legend has many versions, sometimes including a date or approximate date and providing more of an identity to the mysterious Helen. Some versions associate Helen with Zealandia, the nearby estate built for Pennsylvanian John Evans Brown who made his fortune raising sheep in New Zealand, thus the estate’s name. One version places the fire resulting in the death of Helen’s daughter taking place there while another version has Helen as the mistress of the estate’s owner who hung herself after she became pregnant. Researchers have found nothing to document the existence of an actual Helen, regardless, there still are stories of dauntless teens having interesting experiences there.

I visited Helen's Bridge late one chilly morning recently. The bridge is not the easiest to find. Directions on the internet are mostly confusing and I even had posted an incorrect location for the bridge. Finally, I found directions stating the bridge was over College Street just above Windswept Drive. Plugging that into my GPS, I finally found it, though even my GPS was confused. Upon the mountain, the streets turn all kinds of crazy ways and the street names seem to change frequently. If you can find where College and Windswept Drive intersect, simply continue up College and the bridge is ahead. Go under the bridge and there's a turnout on Beaucatcher Road where you may park. Please be cautious in the area as there are no sidewalks and there is some traffic in the area.

Helen's Bridge from the other side, photo 2012 by Lewis Powell IV. All rights
reserved.
In its current state, the bridge appears almost primeval. It's not hard to see how this place has entered lexicon of legend. Even on a somewhat gloomy morning, the bridge is creepy. I did notice a distinct chill in the air. Perhaps it was due to the cut in the mountain or perhaps Helen was present. Either way, it was a bit unnerving.

Sources
Ambrose, Kala. Ghosthunting North Carolina. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press,
     2011.
Asheville Community News. “Savings Helen’s Bridge.” 1999.
Bordsen, John. “Find the most haunted place in these Carolina towns.”
     Dispatch-Argus. 31 October 2010.
Brown, Alan. Stories from the Haunted South. Jackson, MS: University
     Press of Mississippi, 2004.
Burgess, Joel. “City acquires historic bridge.” Asheville Citizen-Times.
     25 November 2009.
Tomlin, Robyn. “Zealandia Bridge Repairs Completed; Fixing historic
     bridge cost much less than originally forecast.” Asheville Citizen-Times.
     1 June 1999.
Warren, Joshua. Haunted Asheville. Johnson City, TN: Overmountain
     Press, 1996.

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