We left Barney and headed up Highway 5, a designated scenic route, that took us next to Natural Bridge. This, too, is an actual town, but barely. Founded in 1914, it went dormant in the 1930s and then reincorporated in 1997. The 2010 census says it has a population of 37. There is a claim to fame, though, because it is home to the longest natural bridge east of the Rockies. This we had to see.

Open since 1954, the family-owned park surrounding this bridge offers not only virgin forest tranquility but also a thirty-minute walking trail bordered by twenty-seven varieties of fern. Composed of iron ore, the bridge itself, which can only be viewed from the cavern-like area below, is 60 feet high and 148 feet long. It was formed more than two hundred million years ago when sea water, which covered most of Alabama at that time, washed away the sandstone and left the sturdier iron ore arch.

A green and yellow sign in the parking lot explains the story of the bridge on one side and comments on the unique history of Winston County on the other side. Sometimes referred to as “the Free State of Winston,” the county has its own claim to fame. When the Civil War was just getting started, the residents decided they didn’t want to secede from the Union along with the rest of Alabama. Can you imagine! County leaders met at Looney’s Tavern in Double Springs (now the county seat) and attempted to establish a totally independent Republic of Winston. Their efforts never gained traction, but some citizens suffered a number of raids by Confederate soldiers who regarded them as terrible traitors.

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