Saturday, May 19, 2012

Of Kissing Bridges and Fairy Stones

There is something about covered bridges that brings to mind the sound of hoofbeats echoing off the walls of the enclosed structure.

At times in those days gone by, the sounds would cease midway across the water as the horse pulled its two-passenger buggy through the structure.

Back in the 1900s, Virginia's Covered Bridges—also known as "kissing bridges"—numbered more than 100, dwindling down to about 50 in the mid-1930s. Today, these bridges now number twenty-six. Of this number, ten are authentic and sixteen are non authentic. The ten authentic bridges are comprised of eight historic bridges and two modern bridges.

Two of the historic bridges are located in Patrick County near the town of Woolwine. One of these, Jack's Creek Bridge (shown in photos #1-3), crosses the Smith River on Route 615 just west of Route 8, about two miles south of Woolwine. In a small space along 615, there was just enough space for two cars to park while photographing or walking around the bridge.

The 48-foot span, built in 1914, has been replaced by a modern bridge but is being retained.

Nearby is the Bob White Bridge, an 80-foot truss over the Smith River, one mile east of Route 8, just off Route 618. Built in 1921, it served principally as a connection between Route 8 and a church on the south side of the river.

Both bridges had only limited vehicle access and were located near private property, so finding a clear view of the bridges from different angles was somewhat difficult.

Seeing these bridges up close—even though it seemed that many repairs had been made—was a contact with history.

From the Bob White covered bridge, we drove another 20 miles to Fairy Stone State Park, the largest of Virginia's six original state parks.

The park’s services were limited to the gift shop, since we were about 10 days ahead of the Memorial Day weekend opening. A short
walk along the shoreline of the 168-acre lake showed that prepa-rations were nearly complete for opening day.

The beach and volleyball court needed some raking, but the kayaks

and canoes needed only to be emptied of the accumu-lation from the recent rainstorm. But these recreational opportu-nities and the hiking trails were not our main reason for visiting this park.

You see, Fairy Stone State Park is home to its namesake "fairy stones." And, as you might expect upon hearing the name of the stones, there is a legend of the Fairy Stone: “Many hundreds of years before Chief Powhatan’s reign, fairies were dancing around a spring of water, playing with naiads and wood nymphs, when an elfin messenger arrived from a city far away. He brought news of the death of Christ. When these creatures of the forest heard the story of the crucifixion, they wept. As their tears fell upon the earth, they crystallized to form beautiful crosses.

“For many years people held these little crosses in superstitious awe, firm in the belief that they protected the wearer against witchcraft, sickness, accidents and disaster. Fairy stones are staurolite, a combination of silica, iron and aluminum. Staurolite crystallizes at 60 or 90 degree angles, hence the stone's cross-like structure. Found only in rocks once subjected to great heat and pressure, the mineral was formed long, long ago, during the rise of the Appalachian Mountains. The stones are most commonly shaped like St. Andrew’s cross, an "X," but "T" shaped Roman crosses and square Maltese
crosses are the most sought-after. The rare staurolite stones are found elsewhere but not in such abundance as at Fairy Stone State Park” (park informational brochures).

At the Gift Shop, we saw many examples of the “raw” stones. They ran the gamut of rocks the size of your thumb nail—some with no signs of the distinctive angles and others with portions protruding from the small rocks. When polished, the rocks look like those in the photo above.

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