COVINGTON - Otis Ellington guesses he's traveled Hightower Trail Bridge over Gum Creek "quite a few million times," during his 75 years.
He knows that estimate may be a bit exaggerated, but it sure feels right.
He was born and raised on a farm right along Hightower Trail, and he recalls how the adults used to dam up the creek under the bridge so he and the other children could go swimming.
It's only natural then that Ellington should feel a twinge of sadness that the bridge will be demolished and replaced with a stronger and safer version.
And it's only fair that he should be the last person to drive over it. The county allowed him that courtesy, and at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday morning, Ellington gave a little wave as he rolled his Buick LeSabre over the wooden deck one more time.
"I hate to see the old bridge go because she's certainly served her purpose," he said.
Ellington can't say just when the bridge was built, only that he has an 84-year-old sister, and "the bridge has been there as long as either one of us can ever remember."
If he had to make an educated guess, he'd say his father and grandfather, who also owned a farm in the area, may have financed the construction of the bridge, "back in those days when cotton was king."
Now that he's accomplished his goal of being the last person to drive over the bridge, Ellington, who still owns property nearby, has one more wish.
"Hopefully, if the good Lord's willing and I'm living, when they get the new one completed, I want to be the first one to cross it," he said. "I'm connected to it from a memory standpoint, and I'd be honored to have that privilege."
Crystal Tatum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SideBar: How else would you know?
· Hightower Trail was used by Indian traders as early as 1750. It was the northernmost route running from Augusta toward the Etowah River to Alabama.
· The trail also served as the dividing line between the Creek and Cherokee Indians.
· Hightower and Etowah are corruptions of the Indian name I-ta-wa.