Driving North on Interstate 26, about half an hour after you pass the exits for Spartanburg, you start to climb into the Blue Ridge Mountains.
This is Howards Gap. I love this part of the trip. We are almost home.
The grade is steep here. Sometimes there are slow trucks in the right lane. You see the mountains coming up around you. If it is late, you can see twinkling lights of the homes down the mountain.
Soon you will see the sign for the North Carolina state line. You are driving through Polk County and Henderson County is next.
After you pass into Henderson County, you start going down again. You are entering the Green River Gorge. The sign says the grade is 7%.
You go over the Peter Guice Memorial Bridge. Look way down. You are crossing the Green River, 225 feet down.
You might just notice the sign for the Eastern Continental Divide. You are now at 2,130 feet elevation.
The land starts to level off and during season, you can see the apple blossoms in Henderson county. If you lower the windows, sometimes you can smell them. This is the French Broad River drainage basin. You have gone up the mountain and there are mountains in the horizon, but the land is more level and hilly.
Howard Gap road used to run from Spartanburg up and into the mountains. This was one of the first roads. It was already used by the Cherokee before it was discovered by settlers.
In some old books about the area they call it the Drover Road through Howard’s Gap. A drover is someone who drives livestock. Sorta like a cowboy drives cattle. Drovers moved sheep, cattle, even turkeys down this road to markets in South Carolina.
There is a historic marker on 64 where it intersects Howard Gap Road, just past the Walmart.
Howard Gap Road
Route used by Indians & settlers in crossing the Blue Ridge. Named for Capt. Thomas Howard, 1776 militia leader.
When they built I-26, they used part of Howard Gap road for the route.
This stretch of the interstate was the hardest place for them to build. It took a lot of engineering. There are a lot of springs and seeps and they kept having landslides as they tried to build the road.
The area along Tryon Peak and Miller Mountain, the ridges on the right after the exit to Columbus, were the most difficult places to get through. There are miles of underground pipes draining the water away.
Peter Guice Bridge
The Peter Guice Memorial Bridge crosses the Green River. It is 225 feet high, the third highest bridge in all of the United States Interstate system. Actually it is two parallel bridges. They are each 1050 feet long and 28 feet wide.
The bridge is at the same spot that Peter Guice built the first toll bridge over the Green River in 1820. He had an Inn on the route for drovers to stay on their way to market. He built a toll bridge to cross the river here. It was worth paying to cross so your animals didn’t drown.
This marker is at the rest area.
Peter Guice Memorial Bridge
1-26 crosses the Green River Gorge 14 mi. to the S.E. Spanning the gorge is the Peter Guice Memorial Bridge, named in honor of the builder of the first Green River bridge. Guice’s bridge was a low wooden structure build circa 1820 to improve the crossing and to facilitate travel along the Howard’s Gap Road, the major route between the mountains of Tenn. and N.C., and the markets on the coast. The present bridge is situated at the same location as the original bridge, and is 220 ft. above the river.