In Search of Lovers Bridge

The only postcard to include a  location of Lovers Bridge [kahn 12_35_002. ]

Sometimes you lose yourself in an archival rabbit hole.

This particular adventure started during the processing of the latest tranche of postcards for the Fred Kahn Asheville Postcard Collection. Kahn was an avid collector of postcards, often accumulating numerous copies of the same card, and filing the cards in binders by subjects or theme.

Binder 12 of the collection covers the French Broad and Swannanoa Rivers, and within the Swannanoa images there were numerous views of Lovers Bridge*. But where was Lovers Bridge located?

And so, like Alice, we find a rabbit hole.

A very similar view as the postcard above, but with different people and roadway [kahn 12_34_004]

All the postcards show a similar view; the river to the right of the image, a track/road (sometimes paved, sometimes muddy) in the center foreground and leading to a bridge with timber railings, somewhere near the middle of the image. Beyond the bridge, both river and track curve leftwards.

Any dates indicate the cards are from the early years of the 20th century, when the Swannanoa had trees and bushes along the banks, but no buildings or anything else to suggest exactly where the bridge was.

This postcard was mailed in August 1906, to an address in Saluda, NC, and is described as “a mountain drive” rather than Lovers Bridge [kahn 12_41_003]

What the postcards make clear is that Lovers Bridge was parallel to the Swannanoa, it didn’t cross the river. But it was a bridge, it had to cross something, and if not the Swannanoa, then what?

Of the nearly 30 postcards showing Lovers Bridge, only one [12_35_002], showing two ladies and a small child walking on the track, includes any kind of description on the verso. This reads, “Lover’s Bridge is one of the popular points along the Swannanoa River, and is located about one mile above the Biltmore Bridge. The old wooden bridge has recently been replaced by an iron one.”

An approximate location!

A colorized print of the monochrome photograph used for the previous postcard, but the view is now identified as “Lovers Bridge” [kahn 12_41_002]

To keep a long story short, approximately 8/10ths of a mile (by Google maps) from the present day bridge where Biltmore Avenue crosses the Swannanoa, Ross Creek enters the river. Is it this creek that Lovers Bridge bridged?

Certainly the course of the river seems to fit this supposition, as upstream from Ross Creek, the Swannanoa does bend left, like in the postcards.

This would make the present day location of Lovers Bridge on Swannanoa River Road, near Hajoca plumbing supplies. A big change from the rural track of 120 years ago!

Is this what Lovers Bridge looked like in December 2016, when Google Streetview captured this image?

One obvious way to cross reference the location would be from maps or travel books from the early 1900s, especially since Lovers Bridge was “popular” and featured on so many postcards.

But, despite looking in many nooks and crannies in the archival rabbit hole, not a single reference to Lovers Bridge has yet been found.

Why might this be?

One possible explanation may lay in the postcards. Postcard manufacturers would often “manipulate” a view, so that a daylight scene is transformed into a moonlight view, images are colorized, and people and objects added or removed.

Image manipulation did not begin with Photoshop!

As noted previously, the postcards all show a similar view.Is it possible that an early postcard designer adopted the name “Lovers Bridge” for this particular bridge near the Swannanoa, and the name was continued by subsequent postcard designers, but the name never existed outside the postcard artist fraternity?

Maybe, or maybe not.

This 1902 postcard, with a slightly different perspective from most of the other postcards, does not refer to Lovers Bridge. Had the name not been “invented” then? [kahn 12_36_003]

Despite spending far too much time exploring this particular rabbit hole, few definitive answers have been found so far. If any reader has information about Lovers Bridge, please contact Ramsey Library Special Collections, as we would love to resolve this particular obsession!

Colin Reeve, Special Collections

*The bridge is called both Lovers and Lover’s Bridge on postcards. For consistency “Lovers” has been used in this blog

Finding Connections

John Donne observed no man is an island, but part of a greater continent, and the same can be argued of archival collections. Each tells a story, but sometimes looking at multiple collections can yield a bigger narrative.

In 1977, a large number of photographs, negatives and other items were donated to UNC Asheville Special Collections. The images, identified as the, Hollday Collection of John G. Robinson Photographs, were thought to be the work of Robinson, who owned a Kodak store in Asheville in the early 20th century.

The collection has recently undergone significant reprocessing, resulting in a new finding aid including a full listing of all 2426 images in the collection, and a reassessment of who the photographer actually was. Some images were clearly taken after Robinson died in 1923, and may be the work of his wife Sarah. Or his son John Jr., who for many years owned an electrical and camera store in Burnsville, may be the photographer. Or they may be the work of other unidentified photographers.

Some images were provided to Robinson by postcard manufacturers and, conversely, some images taken by Robinson were intended to be used on postcards.

Special Collections is fortunate to have several collections of postcards, including the Fred Kahn Asheville Postcard Collection.

Fred Kahn was a deltiologist (postcard collector), and through the kind generosity of his widow Jan, and other members of his family, Special Collections now has approximately 700 postcards in the Fred Kahn Asheville Postcard Collection. The collection follows Kahn’s original arrangement and groups the images within themes, often showing numerous versions of the same “view”.

Which brings us back to the Robinson Collection.

As mentioned earlier, many images, thought to be the work of Robinson, were made into postcards and some of these feature in the Kahn Collection.

The Kahn Collection includes two copies of a postcard titled, “Mount Pisgah from Buck Spring Lodge on Vanderbilt Estate, ‘In The Land Of The Sky’”, published by the Southern Postcard Co. of Asheville. The image shows sheep in front of the lodge, with two women and a man looking on.

M2016.08 Fred Kahn Collection [2_25_004]
The Robinson Collection includes a series of images that were clearly taken at the same time as the image on the Kahn postcard, with robb208 being almost identical. The photograph does however show an expanded view, with four men seated on the lodge veranda, which were cut from the postcard, as was the Robinson index number. The other major change is that the postcard image is colorized.

P77. 16 Holladay Collection of John G. Robinson Photographs [robb208]
Although Robinson is not credited on the postcard, it seems highly likely he photographed the original image.

Some postcards were taken directly from Robinson’s negatives. Examples of this are the images of Biltmore House shown below.

M2016.08 Fred Kahn Asheville Postcard Collection [1_53_001]
M2016.08 Fred Kahn Asheville Postcard Collection [1_53_003]
The Kahn Collection includes two postcards  showing a view of Biltmore House, but although they both have the same title and credit, the text layout differs.

P77.16 Holladay Collection of John G. Robinson Photographs [robb957]
Robinson negative robb957 has suffered damage, but otherwise is identical to Kahn 1_53_003.

Neither of the Kahn postcards identifies a publisher, so it is possible that Robinson produced the postcards himself and sold them in his store. Both postcards were mailed, providing an approximate year of manufacture; 1_53_001 was mailed in 1915, and 1_53_003 in 1916, so it may be that the different text styles are from two different print runs from different years.

Some images raise more questions than they answer.

The two images of the original Battery Park Hotel shown below are similar enough to assume that the photograph is the source of the postcard.

M2016.08 Fred Kahn Asheville Postcard Collection [5_55_001]
P77.16 Holladay Collection of John G. Robinson Photographs [robb2407]
However, the postcard is credited to “Plateau Studio for S.H. Kress & Co.” Plateau was a studio operating in Asheville at the time Robinson had his Kodak store, but there is no record that he worked for Plateau. But did he? Or is the postcard credit incorrect? Or was Robinson not responsible for the original image, which exists in the Robertson Collection as a print rather than a negative?

Materials from the Kahn and Roberston collections are not available online, but can be viewed at Special Collections