Helen's Bridge


The Legend

One night Zealandia Castle caught fire, a woman named Helen lost her only child, a daughter. Helen was so distraught she hung herself from the small stone bridge near Zealandia Castle. Since that night it has been said if you go to the bridge late at night, turn off your car, and call Helen's name she will appear to you, a sad glowing figure. Helen is supposed to wander the mountain in a long gown, asking those she meets if they have seen her daughter. If you are "lucky" enough to see her you may as well settle in. Those who have seen Helen, find that their car won't start when they try to leave.

There has been much paranormal activity associated with the bridge, apparitions, orbs, etc. Be warned, there is more present than the spirit of Helen. People have described seeing monstrous dark things coming out of the woods. They have described being slapped, hit, and scratched. If you do visit, be respectful, do not try to invoke or provoke anything up there. People have reported all kinds of other strange things going on around Helen’s Bridge. There were many Indian burials found in this area in the late 1940's and people say after the graves were disturbed the paranormal activity at the bridge and around it shot up.

 

Current History

Built in 1909 to provide access to the Zealandia Mansion on the crest of Beaucatcher Mountain, Helen's Bridge, or Zealandia Bridge was special from its conception. The bridge was graced with beauty, both in its arched design and its quarried stone construction. R. S. Smith was the designing Architect. R. S. Smith was the field architect for the Biltmore House and designed The Cathedral of All Souls in Biltmore Village.

Sometimes an object being saved has a special connection beyond its architecture and construction. Historic structures sometimes have a personal history that makes it special to a city. Such is the case with Helen's Bridge (Zealandia Castle Bridge) on Beaucatcher Mountain, in Asheville, North Carolina.

Helen's Bridge was first threatened in 1976 when the North Carolina Department of Transportation decided to make the cut through Beaucatcher Mountain for Interstate 240. The bridge itself was not in the path of the construction of Interstate-240. However, the shock waves from the blasting of the granite rock in the I-240 cut posed the threat to the arched stone bridge.

Robert S. Griffin, principal architect with R. S. Griffin Architects, P.A., immediately recognized the threat of the shock waves to the bridge and successfully lobbied the North Carolina Department of Transportation to shore up the bridge with support scaffolding during the blasting period to give the bridge additional support. The support scaffolding remained in place over the next 23 years until the fall of 1999.

In 1999 there was talk of tearing down the bridge by some individuals and strong support within the preservation community to repair the bridge and reopen it. The latter group prevailed and began the initial plans for raising the funds for the repairs and the load tests.

Before the support scaffolding could be removed, load tests needed to be made to determine if the arched bridge had been damaged by the shock waves from the blasting. There were also minor repairs needed for the bulkheads; shoring up some stone work, tuck-pointing some masonry joints and replacing some missing stones were jobs that needed to be completed before the support scaffolding was removed.

The bridge itself seemed to be intact. The question remained, was the bridge structurally sound? Was it safe to remove the support scaffolding? How could this be done without risking the collapse of the bridge? Who was going to pay for this work?

Once again, Robert Griffin took the initiative. He helped to form the Zealandia Committee that raised $40,000 that helped to pay for the repairs and load test. The Asheville City Council contributed $10,000, and the Asheville City Public Works Department funded $3,685.

It was decided that the support scaffolding would be lowered two inches below the bridge. The load tests would then be made. If the bridge could not structurally support the load test, the bridge would fall only two inches. Since the bridge was going to be used for only pedestrian traffic, the test loads were limited to pedestrian limits. The bridge passed the load tests, the minor repairs were completed and the support scaffolding was removed.

But what gave saving Helen's Bridge its special meaning? What is the special connection to Helen's Bridge that, perhaps, can touch even those who are passe' about historic restoration? The saving of Helen's Bridge now gives us all the opportunity to walk under the "great arched bridge" and shout up to the bridge and listen for our echo, just as Thomas Wolfe did as a young boy in the early 1900's.

Asheville owes a special thanks to all those individuals who contributed their time and money to save this very special historic Asheville landmark.