Ravenel's Bridge

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Ravenel's Bridge

"AN ACT to Authorize and Empower the Trustees of Clemson Agricultural College to Aid the County Commissioners of Oconee and Pickens Counties in Purchasing Ravenel's Bridge, Over Seneca River, in Oconee and Pickens Counties.
"SECTION 1. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the State of South Carolina, now met and sitting in General Assembly, and by the authority of same, That the Trustees of Clemson Agricultural College be, and they are hereby, authorized and empowered to aid the County Commissioners of Oconee and Pickens in purchasing from the owners [of] Ravenel's Bridge, over the Seneca River, in Oconee and Pickens Counties, and pay for the same out the funds appropriated by the State to said College: Provided, That they do not pay more than fifteen hundred dollars for the same: Provided, further, That the State shall not be held liable in any manner whatever for the rebuilding or repairing said bridge.
"Approved January 4th, A.D. 1894."

It was a tall covered bridge when first erected. At the turn of the 20th Century, the highway crossing of the Seneca River on the Old Greenville Highway was known as the Seneca River Bridge. It was still referred to as Ravenel's Bridge, as of 1920. It was replaced in 1927 by a new structure consisting of single-span through-truss design with concrete abutments and approaches, and featuring octagonal obelisks on each corner. Following the Great War (as World War I was then known), the span was renamed Memorial Bridge with a plaque that read "Dedicated to the men of Clemson College who gave their lives during the World War - This tablet erected [on November 11, 1928 - Ed.] by the Clemson College Post American Legion." This bronze tablet was on the southeast obelisk facing campus. A similar plaque was located on the west-face of the south abutment, as travelers approached Clemson, with Tillman Hall visible slightly to the right, placed by the American Legion of Seneca in memory of Oconee County servicemen killed in the war.

When Lake Hartwell was created by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the late 1950s, the Old Greenville Highway's western approach to Clemson was moved further south to connect with the southern end of the upper diversion dam being erected, and the original road alignment across the bottom lands was submerged by the filling of the lake in 1961. Memorial Bridge's concrete abutments, were not removed at that time and lay, largely forgotten, until the mid-1980s when drought conditions caused the lake to drop so far below full pool that boaters began tearing out their bottoms on the reappearing top of the bridge concrete. The obelisks were removed circa the 1981 drought. A warning buoy was placed above the structure in the short term. With drought conditions in the Southeast as dire as in the 1980s, Lake Hartwell has dropped so far below full pool in the fall of 2007 that there are buoys placed above the bridge again.

Drought conditions see the lake drop to record low of 639.3 feet MSL by November 8, 2008 from full pool of 660 feet MSL, and the entire remains of Memorial Bridge reemerge, revealing that the dedication plaque was removed before submergence in 1961. The plaque is now all but unnoticed on the southwest end of the US 123 highway bridge over Lake Hartwell. (The Clemson College plaque was on the NE end of the 123 bridge, and was stolen some years ago. It is not here as of 9/16/14, and was noticed as missing some 5 or so years ago. The paque on the SE end of the 123 bridge is an Oconee County plaque.) Also evident is the gap in the concrete highway bed east of the old Seneca River alignment, reportedly blown to provide one of two channels on the bridge's ends.