Each autumn, Tim and I watch for the foliage peak and then plan an excursion up the Blue Ridge Escarpment. Our typical route takes us up Highway 25 just past the North Carolina State line and then back down the mountain on Old Highway 25, now designated as Highway 969. This course provides open views along the newer road and then offers an up-close look at the foliage on our return, taking us through the beautiful North Saluda Reservoir area, also known as the Greenville Watershed.
We almost missed our chance this year, as the sudden frost on October 24-25 caused a quick turn in leaf color. On Saturday, as we reached our return point, we found many trees had dropped their leaves. Within a few miles back down the mountain, however, enveloped by the native oak-hickory forest of the Southern Blue Ridge, we hit the sweet spot. Eager to prolong our pleasure, we stopped at Poinsett Bridge to take photographs.
Poinsett Bridge, located within the 120 acre Poinsett Bridge Heritage Preserve, is a 183-year-old arched stone bridge named for Joel R. Poinsett. It’s believed to be the oldest surviving bridge in South Carolina. A Charleston native, Poinsett was a prominent early resident of Greenville and a U.S. ambassador to Mexico. The poinsettia, which Poinsett introduced to the United States from Mexico, was named for him. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Poinsett Bridge was part of the State Road from Charleston to North Carolina designed in 1817-19 by Poinsett, then director of the South Carolina Board of Public Works. It is also thought that Robert Mills, architect of the Washington Monument and many significant South Carolina buildings, may have designed Poinsett Bridge.
The old bridge crosses Calahan Branch, a cold mountain stream. Native rhododendron and doghobble (Leucothoe fontanesiana) crowd the banks of the waterway near the bridge. I also noticed large stands of woodland iris, with brilliant yellow autumn foliage, growing among the ferns and moss.
Poinsett Bridge is in Greenville County north of Travelers Rest on Callahan Mountain Road (Highway 42) adjacent to Camp Old Indian. Open throughout daylight hours year-round, it can be found with these GPS coordinates: Latitude 35.128, and Longitude -82.389.