Located just north of Greenville, the Poinsett Bridge was built in 1820 and is believed to be the oldest surviving bridge in South Carolina. It was named for Charleston native and U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, Joel R. Poinsett. Poinsett is also credited with bringing the poinsettia flower, which now bears his name, to the United States.
The bridge was part of the original State Road, a toll road that ran from Charleston through Columbia to North Carolina. Constructed from locally quarried stone, the Poinsett Bridge was one of three stone bridges along the stretch of State Road referred to as the Saluda Mountain Road.
The bridge features stepped parapet sidewalls and is marked by a 15-foot Gothic arch which forms the passage for Little Gap Creek, a small tributary of the North Saluda River.
At the time of the bridge’s design, Poinsett was the director of the South Carolina Board of Public Works. It is speculated that Robert Mills, architect of many South Carolina buildings as well as the Washington Monument, may have designed the bridge.
While the Poinsett Bridge is the most famous attraction at this location, there is quite a bit more to see. The bridge is located within a Heritage Trust Preserve which is a natural nature preserve, managed by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. Heritage Preserves are noted to be a place where history, ecosystems and archaeological areas will be preserved in their entirety.
The 120-acre preserve is home to many plants indigenous to South Carolina. By having the land they grow on in a protected preserve, we can ensure natural areas remain for these plants to flourish.
Trails meander through the acreage and planned picnic spots and interpretive areas along the trail are currently planned by the Department of Natural Resources.
The Poinsett Bridge is listed in the National Register:
Constructed in 1820, the Poinsett Bridge is one of the oldest spans extant in South Carolina. Its impressive construction of wedge shaped rocks, erected without concrete, has pointed Gothic arches that are rare in the state today. The bridge was part of the State Road from Charleston through Columbia to North Carolina that was designed in 1817-1819 by Joel Poinsett, director of the South Carolina Board of Public Works. The bridge was named in his honor.
Poinsett also served as Secretary of War, Minister to Mexico, and first president of the National Institute for the Promotion of Science, forerunner of the Smithsonian. It is believed that Robert Mills designed the bridge. Mills became State Architect and Engineer for the South Carolina Board of Public Works in 1820. A brush drawing by Mills of a bridge with Gothic arches and keystone identical to those of Poinsett Bridge lends credence to the belief that Mills designed the bridge.
More Pictures of the Poinsett Bridge
Reflections on the Poinsett Bridge
Contributor Ralph Mayer shares this about Poinsett Bridge: “This place means a lot to me as I was on the Aquatics staff and later the Aquatics and High Adventure Director of Camp Old Indian – about 300 yards up the road from Poinsett Bridge – for seven summers in the late 1960s through mid 70s. This bridge was almost like a part of camp for us. I spent quiet time reading on or by the bridge, jogged over it many days – all the while remembering that it was at one time THE road between Greenville, SC and Asheville, NC. I was jogging where horse and buggy used to travel. We’ve been known to wear out the bottoms of cut-off jeans sliding on the rocks below the bridge.”