The Georgia Department of Transportation has found that the Ga. 52/Ga. 323 bridge near Gillsville has had a higher calling than just carrying motorists from one side of Candler Creek to the other.
After a bridge replacement project began in May, District Engineer Bayne Smith got a call from Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle’s office asking whether people wanting to get baptized in the creek would still have access.
“That’s something we’re actually looking at,” Smith said during a March DOT forum at the University of North Georgia-Gainesville. “I think (the issue) came up during the environmental process.”
In a phone interview last week, Cagle reaffirmed that concern.
“That part of the county is where most of my family is from,” he said. “Growing up, I remember going there for baptismal services.
“It’s just a tradition in the East Hall community for so many families. I think it’s very important to continue that tradition.”
Teri Pope, district spokeswoman for the DOT, said the department’s response has partially been to store construction materials in another area.
The $2.2 million bridge project, set for a Sept. 30 completion, calls for a new bridge to be built next to the old one, then tearing down the 73-year-old, 112-foot structure.
“We did make provisions that we could, but we couldn’t do a whole lot, because the area where (people) park along the old bridge ... is where the new bridge is going.”
Workers “were able to put down some gravel and maintain an entrance into where they had been doing the baptisms,” Pope said.
However, the gravel area doesn’t appear as if it’s been disturbed, she added.
“We asked a lot of the people who work for us and go to some of the smaller churches in that area and nobody had even remembered attending ... or hearing of a baptism there.”
Gillsville Mayor Larry Poole said the road project has been something of a community concern.
“That’s been a baptismal place for many years, going back to when I was a child,” he said.
“Many churches have gone to an indoor baptismal pool, but occasionally, you still have folks who request to use that site,” Poole said.
“In the last couple of years, I have seen at least two or so (baptisms there).”
The area also has a “tradition as a community swimming hole,” Poole said.
“Over the years, there has been many a youngster growing up learning to swim there. We even had some diving boards ... so there’s a lot of history there.”