An expedition through timber tunnels

An expedition through timber tunnels

What The Park Means To Its People

To me Watson’s Mill is where I have grown from an infant into a young man. Prior to my life’s beginning, my parents held their wedding in the park’s scenic landscape, and before too long their love for the place became mine. Some of my earliest memories consist of toddler birthday parties galivanting too and fro on the playscape’s friendly Green Dragon. Even now I can recall the sense of pure excitement that filled my kindergarten heart as I approached the shoals boogie-board in tow with my family behind me. And yet a decade away from those now somewhat hazy recollections, I spend every spare hour reveling in all that the State Park has to offer. Usually in good company, I waste away days spent otherwise idle to steal away and paddle up the adjoining South Fork, camp by the fireside, hike on winding trails, or swim in the refreshing shimmer of the shoals. To myself and countless others the park is a quaint escape from the demands of modern life. Time slows down there so when someone wishes to enjoy themselves in nature without being subjected to the cruel mistress of the clock, they come to Watson’s Mill. To all who have stepped foot in its domain the park has the same immeasurable value as any abstract device that can call for the shift of the eternal sundial to halt.


Prior to the bridge’s presence, Gabriel Watson ran a grist mill on the river, nearby the current park road location. A small community was centered around Watson’s establishment consisting of a furniture shop (On the bottom floor of the mill), blacksmith, cotton gin, and a general store. Because of the structure’s proximity to Watson’s Mill, the bridge was christened with his name. Watson’s legacy still lives on in the park and one can appreciate it by visiting the man and his wife’s final resting place in the neighboring Fork Cemetery.

In 1885, the park’s wooden trestle centerpiece was constructed by the son of a famous covered bridge architect, Washington W. King. W. W. King’s father, Horace King was a freed slave who, with his expertise in carpentry, bought back his rights as a man, and later built numerous bridges across the Chattahoochee. When W. W. King built Watson Mill’s pride and joy; it totaled just over $3,000 which is equivalent to about $95,000 today. The majority of the current lattice work remains original, and the overpass continues to boast its impressive spans of 229 feet.

Some years later around 1905, the mill’s wheel no longer turned, for it had given way to the age of Edison. An industrial hydroelectric powerhouse and its 300 yard raceway took the antiquated mill’s place. The plant supplied electricity to the Crawford area for some time, before it was shut down and salvaged for scrap in the mid 20th century. It was after the turbine’s closure in 1969, when the affluent Bryan family, who owned the Jefferson Textile Mill, donated 135 of the park’s original acreage. The bridge was restored to its former glory in 1973 by the Georgia Department of Transportation. Local citizens also contributed to the effort of preserving the covered bridge, and eventually the site was recognized on the National Registry of Historic Places. A few decades later, in 1996 Watson’s Mill grew to 1,018 acres via aid from the Trust For Public Land Association. With the year 2006 coming to a close the park received its most recent portion of land, a 100 acres in a DOT land mitigation act. As it stands now Watson’s Mill is one of two equestrian accessible parks in Georgia, with 24 campsites, several picnic shelters, boat rentals, and 19 miles of walking/horseback trails.

Beauty In The Park

When walking across the Watson Mill bridge one is enveloped: in a gentle darkness provided by the shingle ceiling, in the sweet musk of the ancient heart pine, and in the comforting roar of water rushing in the shoals below. Between triangular windows in the slatted sides those who are observant may gaze out upon the awe inspiring scene of glinting water hurried to traverse in and out of its granite labyrinth. Beneath bare swimmers’ feet or the boots of hikers each board groans and tells the story of their grain and how they have come to be in a symphony like this. Outside of the bridge for a moment the ignorant will be disappointed to have left their wooden hideaway, but they would not be privy to the serene options before them. 

From the North end of the bridge there is many a twisting path to tramp through as you consider existence and your place in it with the confidence of reverent cedars, jovial dogwood, and wise evergreens. There is also a wide open plain of river rapids below a ten foot waterfall, which, for most, serves as the main attraction. The sound of the South Fork is nearly deafening, but not in a manner which fosters displeasure, in fact the water white noise is so certain and undeniable it provides an abstract lull to the senses that enforces a nature induced relaxation. It is in such an auditory state that recreation takes places in and around the swimming holes with grassy lined banks which were periodically placed by divinity for the curious to discover.

On the Southern side of W. W. King’s creation lays a great stretch of canoe highway awaiting peoples to pay homage to foreign watery lands. Although it’s an upstream journey often made in downstream vessels the river is generous in her rewards. While sailing towards her peak, boaters will be subjected to scenes of tranquility unmatched with grand, lazy trees slouching down on the exuberant stream and water fowl of all sorts sharing their daily endeavors. Here and there a well loved rope swing will adorn an overhanging branch, but otherwise few man made sights burden the journey. While swimming in the delightful nectar of syrup borne in the North Georgia Mountains; beaver and fish are man’s brethren, the stick clad dam their chapel, and hymns are but the whistle of a fellow paddler. Also on the Southern end of the bridge is what remains of the historic mill. The narrow dirt path leading to the ruins lights up a brilliant orange during golden hour which contrasts exquisitely with the green of the leaves above. The rock and mortar walls of the once bustling business have now yielded to the surrounding forest and are almost entirely overgrown with the new life of ivy vines and saplings.

For those who have once been within the gates of Watson Mill, it is undeniably clear that the park exists in a bygone era which is rare, if not extinct. The State Park’s rich history is evident of a simpler time where man was more in touch with the natural world around him; where someone made their living from what the Earth provided them with. However on a less distant level, the State Park is the product of a post Great Recession world, and has been seldom altered since Georgia’s recreational budget for out of the way parks was cut in 2009. Of course the park’s facilities are still properly maintained, but the atmosphere does not seem to be regularly modernized. With that being said, a large part of Watson Mill’s appeal is its homely, rustic Southern feel. Unlike some over-developed tourist attractions, this park and its resources remain only an entrance to a far more interesting world of wilderness. An insignificant crack in the bridge’s main road means nothing when a tire rolls over it for a moment, what truly matters is the environment in which someone steps into, the moment they open their car door.                

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