There’s something about bridges, particularly old ones, that lend themselves to tales of ghosts and hauntings. These structures are ripe for tragedy, crossing potentially hazardous places such as waterways or chasms. Here in Upstate South Carolina alone there are many stories about haunted bridges such as Poinsett Bridge in Greenville County, Booger Jim Bridge in Cherokee County, Crybaby Bridge in Anderson County, another Crybaby Bridge in Union County, and the bridge over Ghost Creek in Laurens County, just to name a few.
There is one bridge in the Upstate that very well should be haunted, but I’ve never heard any reports of ghosts or haints lingering in its vicinity. Farr’s Bridge is on Highway 183, the main road between Greenville and Pickens. It’s only a two lane bridge, yet hundreds of cars cross the Saluda River at this point every day. I myself cross it twice every Wednesday on my way to and from playing banjo at the Pickens Flea Market. I’ve even paddled under this bridge many times, starting downstream on Lake Saluda and kayaking up past the bridge as far as I can until the current forces me back the way I came.
Though there are no reported hauntings, the bridge does not lack for tragedy. There have been drownings and accidents, some of which resulted in criminal charges, and any of which could lend themselves to a good ghost story.
As always, a bit of history…
The Farr Family settled in Western Greenville County in the 1700s. James Madison Farr was born in 1789 and died in 1862. He is buried in the Berea Baptist Church Cemetery. As an adult Farr purchased Chick’s Mill on the Saluda River. My go to resource for historic place names, Robert Mills’s 1825 map of the Greenville District, did not show either Chick or Farr’s Mill. There is a Bradley’s Mill close to that location, but I can’t say for certain if it’s the same. The earliest reference I could find to the bridge was a brief mention in an 1861 edition of the Keowee Courier. The Board of Commissioners of Roads, Bridges and Ferries authorized a payment of $26.40 to James Farr for the repair of Chick’s Bridge.
By 1867 the bridge was known as Farr’s Bridge and F. M. Marchbanks had taken over maintenance.
An 1869 map of Greenville County shows the bridge as named Farr’s Bridge, as well as Farr’s Mill.
The turn of the century saw heavy rains, flooding and damage to many Upstate bridges. Two of the main routes to Pickens were over Farr’s Bridge and Cox Bridge, further downstream. In 1905 both bridges were struck by flooding. Cox Bridge was damaged, but repairable. Farr’s Bridge was destroyed and had to be rebuilt.
That same year Alester G. Furman along with others proposed the construction of a hydroelectric plant on the Saluda River at the location of Cox Bridge. In June of 1905 construction began on the project.
The bridge was rebuilt again in 1926.
In 1951 Farr’s Bridge Road was redone to straighten out some curves and make the bridge safer. Interestingly, the bridge is referred to as Highway 416 instead of 183.
The old bridge abutments can still be seen just south of the current bridge. Here are some shots of those abutments from various kayaking trips.
But that’s not the entire story of this bridge.
Tales of Tragedy
There have been multiple drownings in the vicinity of Farr’s Bridge. In 1926 several young men were fishing near the bridge when their boat began to take on water. All of the young men were able to swim to shore but one. Harry Dill, age 20, wasn’t able to make it and drowned.
The 1930s were especially tragic. In 1931 Donald Woodson, age 17, drowned while swimming near the bridge.
In 1938 another young woman, Rhudett Brazie Nichols, age 23, was found dead in the waters. One witness thought there had been foul play and there were suspicions that the woman had been poisoned, then thrown into the water after she had died. A coroner’s inquest found that there had been no poison in her body and water was found in her lungs, indicated that she had drowned.
With murder no longer in play, the prevailing thought was that Mrs. Nichols had committed suicide. According to The Greenville News, Nichols had visited her sister the night before and left her eight year old daughter, her pocketbook and some money, and had disappeared. There were also reports that she had been in ill health before the drowning.
The next year saw three, possibly four tragic deaths. Ossie Hester, age 16, drowned while swimming in June of 1939. The State Newspaper said that there had been another drowning just three weeks prior, but I hadn’t been able to find information about that one.
Later that year, in late October, four people were driving across the bridge in a Ford A-Model coupe. The car ran off the bridge. The driver and a young man survived, but two teenage girls, Gertrude Sprouse and Frances Sanders drowned.
Any one of these tragedies would be enough to engender tales of hauntings. However, there are two more stories that deserve a bit more attention.
The Sad Tale of R. Mays Cleveland
Mays Cleveland, Jr. came from a prominent family in Northern Greenville County. Jeremiah Cleveland was one of the first settlers in the area and the community of Cleveland bears his name. Jeremiah laid out a town just south of there and named it “Marietta” in honor of his wife, Mary Williams. Mays Sr. was the grandson of Jeremiah and at one time was the largest land owner in the county. He owned a hotel founded by his father, a grist mill, and a sand pit which provided construction materials. Mays Cleveland Sr. is most remembered for founding the Greenville and Northern Railway, later known as the Swamp Rabbit.
Mays Jr. continued his father’s business success. In 1927 Mays and his wife Daisy moved into a grand new home on the new Geer Highway in Marietta.
Sadly, Mays Cleveland was not able to enjoy his new home for long. In August Cleveland decided to go for a swim. He parked his car at Farr’s Bridge, removed his clothes, and swam across the river in his underwear. Several fishermen spotted him and begged him to get out of the water because he looked exhausted. Cleveland didn’t comply, but continued swimming. The fishermen left to get a deputy sheriff, but when they returned, Cleveland was gone. Cleveland’s body was never recovered.
The fishermen’s accounts in the news make Cleveland’s drowning seem very suspicious, as if he were intoxicated or suicidal. Perhaps it was just a hot August day and he let heat and exhaustion get the better of him. We will never know, but there is just one more body to the growing number of potential ghosts around the bridge. Sadly, Mays and Daisy’s magnificent home in Marietta fell into decline. It was offered for sale, but was finally demolished just this past year.
A True Crybaby Bridge
Just about every state has a “crybaby bridge.” The story usually involves a mother throwing a child from the bridge or taking her life with the baby. The stories tell of the sounds of a child crying when one crosses the bridge at night. South Carolina has two such bridges, one in Anderson County and one in Union County. However, only Farr’s Bridge has documented evidence that such a tragedy took place.
In 1934 a fisherman pulled a bundle from the river. Inside was a two-day old baby boy wrapped in a blanket, stuffed into a pillowcase, and tossed into the river with a flat iron. The following day brothers Paul and Thomas Finley were arrested for the crime. The baby was the child of their unmarried 16 year old sister, Helen. The brothers claimed that the child had already died, but that they had no money for a funeral, so the child was tossed into the Saluda River from Farr’s Bridge. An autopsy found water in the lungs of the baby, indicating drowning as the cause of death.
An affidavit from Mrs. J. S. Finley, the mother of Paul and Thomas, said that the two were taking the child to a relative’s home and that the baby was alive when they left the house. She also stated that her daughter Helen, the mother of the baby, thought that the child was still alive at that time.
The Finley’s were held in jail in Greenville awaiting their trial for nearly a year. On Halloween of 1935 they were finally tried for the murder of their nephew. During the trial the child’s mother, Helen, said that the baby was seven months old, not two days as previously reported. She said that both she and the child had been very ill and that the child had succumbed to that illness. The brothers had taken the baby for burial but decided to dispose of the body in the river since they had no money for a funeral. J. S. Finley, the patriarch of the family, testified that they had followed doctor’s orders and done all they could to save the child. Apparently their testimonies convinced the jury, as Paul and Thomas Finley were acquitted of murder, despite testimony from medical officials that the child had drowned. It seems that there were no charges for the illegally disposing of a body, if that was even a crime at that time.
The outcome seems suspect to me, but not having been there to witness the demeanor of the brothers I guess we’ll really never know. Were they really upset over their nephew’s death, or was the child merely an inconvenience for an unwed mother? Regardless, this was just another in a long line of tragedies at Farr’s Bridge.
An Un-Haunted Bridge
Despite all of these deaths at Farr’s Bridge, there are no reports of hauntings at Farr’s Bridge. There are no tales of mysterious orbs, spectral mists, or unsettling cries around the site. Paranormal investigators haven’t been flocking to the site with K2 meters, EMF detectors, or EVP recorders.
Out of curiosity I checked Dunham’s Bridge further downstream on the Saluda on the Greenville-Anderson county line. There were about as many drownings in that area. It seems this was the case for many bridges at the turn of the 20th Century. There’s probably good reason for that. Cars were in their infancy and lacked many of the safety features found in today’s vehicles. The same goes for bridges, which were often constructed of wood and lacked adequate side rails. Accidents were bound to happen. These bridges were usually miles from the nearest town and there was no EMS to respond quickly should an accident occur. It seems that nearly all old bridges should be haunted if a tragic death is the criteria.
Perhaps one reason Farr’s Bridge has escaped the tales of haunting is that the present-day bridge is unremarkable. As we drove over it just yesterday Laura remarked that it was boring. Given the amount of traffic on Highway 183 and lack of access to the banks on either side of the bridge, one can’t just linger about to see if something paranormal appears.
Maybe I should plan a nighttime kayak trip and just hang out under the bridge and see what I can find. Anyone else brave enough to come along?