Some Important Readings about the Natural Bridge


[Carmichael, William.]  [“Description of a Natural Bridge.”]  Pennsylvania Journal and the Weekly Advertiser, November 25, 1772.

Transcription available online in the footnote at

Reprint in the Virginia Gazette of December 17, 1772, available online at

The first published description of the Natural Bridge.



Chastellux, François Jean, Marquis de. Voyages de M. le Marquis de Chastellux dans l’Amérique Septentrionale dans les Années 1780, 1781 & 1782.  2 vols.  Paris: Prault, Imprimeur du Roi, 1786.

Library of Congress call number:  E163 .C50

Available online at

The second volume of this work, which introduced the Natural Bridge to a European public, includes both important descriptions of the Bridge and the first published images of it.



Chastellux, François Jean, Marquis de. Travels in North-America, in the Years 1780, 1781, and 1782.  Translated from the French by an English Gentleman, Who Resided in America at That Period; with Notes by the Translator.  2 vols.  London: G. G. J. and J. Robinson, 1787.

Library of Congress call number:  E163 .C54

Available online at

The English translation of Chastellux’s Voyages.



Jefferson, Thomas.  Notes on the State of Virginia. London: J. Stockdale, 1787.

Library of Congress call number:  F230 .J41 1787

Available online at

This book by the Natural Bridge’s first individual owner and lifelong ardent advocate contains the most important and influential description of the Bridge and launched its international fame.



Gilmer, Francis William [i.e., Walker].  “On the Geological Formation of the Natural Bridge of Virginia.”  Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, n.s., 1 (1818): 187-92.

Library of Congress call number:  Q11 .P6

Available online at

The first work to approach the problem of the Bridge’s origins with a recognizably modern geological understanding.



Hinton, John Howard, ed.  The History and Topography of the United States: Ed. by

John Howard Hinton, A.M. Assisted by Several Literary Gentlemen in America & England. Illustrated with a Series of Views, Drawn on the Spot, and Engraved on Steel, Expressly for This Work. . . .  2 vols.  London: Jennings & Chaplin, and Philadelphia: T. Wardle, 1830-32.

Library of Congress call number:  E178 .H692

Available online at

The second volume of this highly popular work, which went through multiple editions and many reprints for nearly three decades, introduced the public to perhaps the best known of all the artistic renderings of the Natural Bridge: the engraving by T.S. Woodcock after a drawing by William Goodacre.



Caruthers, William A.  “Climbing the Natural Bridge.  By the Only Surviving Witness to That Event.” The Knickerbocker, or, New-York Monthly Magazine 12 (Jul.-Dec. 1838): 32-35.

Library of Congress call number:  AP2 .K64

Available online at

Authoritative account of an exploit that had already become the stuff of legend.



Martineau, Harriet.  Retrospect of Western Travel.  3 vols.  London: Saunders and Otley, 1838.

Library of Congress call number:  E165 .M379

Available online at

The second volume of this work by a distinguished Englishwoman contains a fine example of the many nineteenth-century travelers’ accounts of visits to the Natural Bridge.



Willis, Nathaniel Parker. American Scenery; or, Land, Lake, and River Illustrations of Transatlantic Nature. From Drawings by W. H. Bartlett,Engraved in the First Style of the Art, . . . .  2 vols.  London: George Virtue, 1840.

Library of Congress call number:  E165 .W73

Available online at

The second volume of this widely popular work, which remained in print for many years, features the famous engraving of the Natural Bridge by J.C. Armytage after a drawing by William H. Bartlett.



Bryant, William Cullen, ed. Picturesque America, or, The Land We Live In: A Delineation by Pen and Pencil of the Mountains, Rivers, Lakes, Forests, Water-falls, Shores, Cañons, Valleys, Cities, and Other Picturesque Features of Our Country.  With Illustrations on Steel and Wood by Eminent American Artists.  Edited by William Cullen Bryant.  2 vols.  New York:  D. Appleton and Co., [1872-74].

Library of Congress call number:  E168 .P587

Available online at

A pinnacle of nineteenth-century American landscape illustration, this lavish and hugely popular work includes in its first volume a description of the Natural Bridge and four notable wood engravings of it based on drawings by Harry Fenn.



The Natural Bridge of Virginia and Its Environs.  N.p., 1890.

Library of Congress call number:  F232.R68 N22

Available online at , although it should be noted that at least some of the pages are out of order.

An early example of the many illustrated promotional guidebooks published since the late nineteenth century to draw visitors to the Natural Bridge and enhance their enjoyment of it.



Parsons, Katherine Loomis.  “The Natural Bridge of Virginia.”  New England Magazine, An Illustrated Monthly, n.s., 4 (Mar.-Aug. 1891): 590-605.

Library of Congress call number:  AP2 .N4

Available online at

Written by the daughter of the Natural Bridge’s owner and most significant developer, this illustrated article explores and extols the Bridge’s surroundings, its beauty, and its human and natural history.  Includes what may be the first published version of the legend attributed to the Monacan Indians concerning the Bridge’s origin.



Torrey, Bradford.  “At Natural Bridge, Virginia.” The Atlantic Monthly 82 (Jul.-Dec. 1898): 112-21, 257-68.

Library of Congress call number:  AP2 .A8

Part 1 available online at

Part 2 available online at

A noted naturalist and nature writer’s exquisitely observed account of a May week spent exploring the birds, plants, trees, and landscape around the Natural Bridge.  In two parts.



Reeds, Chester A.  The Natural Bridge of Virginia and Its Environs.  New York: Nomad Publishing Co., 1927.

Library of Congress call number:  F232.R68 R3

Generously illustrated with photographs, this popular guidebook by a geologist at the American Museum of Natural History is distinguished by its meticulous attention to the geography and geological history of the Natural Bridge and its vicinity.



Tompkins, E.P., and J. Lee Davis.  The Natural Bridge and Its Historical Surroundings.  Natural Bridge, Va.: Natural Bridge of Va., Inc., [1939].

Library of Congress call number:  F232.R68 T6

An important, though unscholarly, compendium of historical writings, local lore, personal remniscence, and even poetry about the Natural Bridge and places near it.  Davis served for many years as president of the company that owned the Bridge.  Includes a brief bibliography.



Davis, J. Lee.  Bits of History and Legends around and about the Natural Bridge of Virginia, from 1730 to 1950.  [Lynchburg, Va.]: Natural Bridge of Va., Inc., [1949].

Washington and Lee University Library call number:  F232.R68 D3

A chronological history of the Natural Bridge and some notable places in its vicinity, consisting largely of excerpts from a more extensive array of written sources than the author’s earlier book provides.  Although Davis is insufficiently discriminating in his use of sources and his documentation can be inadequate for their identification, this work remains an important resource on the history of the Bridge.



Davis, Curtis Carroll.  “The First Climber of the Natural Bridge: A Minor American Epic.” Journal of Southern History 16 (1950): 277-90.

Library of Congress call number:  F206 .J68

Traces the proliferation of varying published accounts of the famous 1818 feat at the Natural Bridge, and the eventual triumph of one eyewitness’s attempt to set the record straight.  The popular interest the author documents underscores the importance of the Bridge in nineteenth-century American culture.



Lapsley, Robert A., Jr.  The Bridge of God: A Spiritual Interpretation of the Natural Bridge of Virginia.  Richmond, Va.: John Knox Press, 1951.

Library of Congress call number:  BV4259 .L3

The texts of the sermons Lapsley delivered at Easter Sunrise services at the Natural Bridge, 1947-51, interspersed with reflections on the Bridge’s spiritual impact on those who visit it.



Spencer, Edgar W.  “Natural Bridge and Vicinity.”  Virginia Minerals 10, no. 2 (May 1964): 1-6.

Library of Congress call number:  TN24.V8 A23

Available online at

A valuable concise overview, readily comprehensible to non-specialists, of the Natural Bridge’s geology and the history of scientific attempts to understand its origins, concluding with a summary of prevailing theories that account for its development. Illustrated with photographs and diagrams; includes a bibliography.



Spencer, Edgar W.  Geology of the Natural Bridge, Sugarloaf Mountain,

Buchanan, and Arnold Valley Quadrangles, Virginia.  Virginia Division of Mineral Resources Report of Investigations 13.  Charlottesville, Va.: Virginia Division of Mineral Resources, 1968.

Library of Virginia call number:  TN24.V8 A45 no. 13

Available online at

Although its subject is much broader than the Natural Bridge, this scientific study provides an authoritative account of the Bridge’s geological identity in its regional context.  The book includes photographs, maps, diagrams, and a bibliography; and is accompanied by four large colored maps, integral to the text, that summarize the author’s research findings.



Simpson, Pamela H.  “So Beautiful an Arch”: Images of the Natural Bridge, 1787-1890: An Exhibition Presented by Washington and Lee University in the duPont Gallery, Lexington, Virginia, January 4-29, 1982.  Lexington, Va.: Washington and Lee University, 1982.

Washington and Lee University Library call number:  F232.R68 W37

This beautifully illustrated exhibition catalog is the indispensable scholarly source on the history of the Natural Bridge’s depiction by artists, engravers, and printmakers from the late eighteenth to the late nineteenth century.  Includes a bibliography.



Coffey, David W.  “Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and the Natural Bridge of Virginia.”  Proceedings of the Rockbridge Historical Society 12 (1995-2002): 135-45.

Library of Congress call number:  F232.R68 R6

A cultural interpretation of the Natural Bridge’s history from the Monocan era to Jefferson’s ownership to the mid-nineteenth century, with special emphasis on the role of Patrick Henry, the freed African-American who served as the Bridge’s custodian from 1817 until his death in 1831.



Philippon, Daniel J. “The Bridge of Words: Encounters with Virginia’s Natural Bridge.”  Southern Cultures 6, no. 3 (Fall 2000): 36-46.

Library of Congress call number:  F209 .S73

The author probes his own first encounter with the Natural Bridge through the familiarity of its image and the accretion of words wrought about it since the eighteenth century.