In 1822, the oldest state-built and maintained road in Alabama, Byler Road, completed a route between the Warrior River in Northport, Tuscaloosa County, and the Muscle Shoals area on the Tennessee River. Eventually the town of Natural Bridge would be built around Byler Road. In the park you will find a sign titled “The Free State of Winston.” During the Civil War, the area surrounding the bridge served as a meeting point for Alabama Unionists who sought to avoid the Confederate draft and also provided shelter for Confederate deserters. In 1862, those in the area voted to remain neutral in the war. In the late 1800’s, the town was established, installed a railroad, and flourished in coal mining and timber harvesting business. The Great Depression caused many of these businesses to close and residents to move away leaving the town and its government dormant until 1997. Today, Natural Bridge hosts a community Christmas dinner and a New Year’s Eve Bluegrass Singing.
As Alabama’s oldest national forest recreation site, opened in 1954, Natural Bridge Park is well worth a stop on your next road trip through North Alabama. The park has been privately owned by Jim and Barbra Denton since 1982. Open all year long from 8am to dusk, this spot is a perfect day trip for nature and history lovers. During the spring, the park is flush with beautiful native wildflowers, and in the fall, vibrant foliage surrounds the trail. The park includes a picnic area, an artesian well with drinking fountains, and a gift shop filled with hand-crafted items where I ended my visit by buying a souvenir coffee mug. Although you are no longer aloud to walk across the bridge, it is truly one of Alabama’s hidden gems. A majestic site, filled with rich Alabama history.