In the past two days we've crossed our bridges when we came to them in two different locations, but in the same state — Virginia.
This first bridge is a real natural . . .
Natural Bridge is a geological formation in which Cedar Creek (a small tributary of the James River) has carved out a gorge in the mountainous limestone terrain, forming a natural arch that is 215 feet high with a span of 90 ft. It consists of horizontal limestone strata, and is the remains of the roof of a cave or tunnel through which the creek once flowed. Natural Bridge has been designated a Virginia Historic Landmark and a national Historic Landmark. The Natural Bridge was a sacred site of the Native American Monacan tribe, who believed it to be the site of a major victory over pursuing Powhatans centuries before the arrival of whites in Virginia. Natural Bridge is also the name of the town in which the bridge is located.
Thomas Jefferson purchased 157 acres of land, including the Natural Bridge, in 1774 from England's King George III for 20 shillings. (There are about 20 shillings to a pound, so by current standards, Jefferson got quite a bargain at well under $5.) Jefferson built a two-room log cabin, with one room reserved for guests, beginning its use as a retreat. In 1802, while President, he personally surveyed the area. Unfounded legends claim that Jefferson could throw a stone from the ground below the bridge to the top or that George Washington surveyed the bridge — neither have any factual basis.
Natural Bridge was one of the wonders of the new world that Europeans visited during the 18th and 19th centuries, Vacationing guests took day trips from the town of Natural
Bridge on horseback or used horse drawn carriages to explore the countryside. American poet William Cullen Bryant said that the Natural Bridge and Niagara Falls were "the two most remarkable features of North America." During the 1880s, Natural Bridge was a resort owned by Colonel Henry Parsons, a Civil War captain, who purchased it and 200 more acres. Parsons formed a company to build the Richmond-Alleghany (R&A) Railroad and envisioned the colonial equivalent of today's Disneyland for his bridge. Two railroads operated excursion trains, bringing hundreds of people who stayed for dinner, for vacation, and for the summer. The Colonel charged for seeing the bridge and for transport to and from the railway, some 2 miles away. In 1894, he was murdered in Clifton Forge, Virginia.
Today, the top of the bridge can be seen for free, as part of US Highway 11, which runs on top of it; however, since the road runs across the naturally created bridge, little besides the roadway can actually be seen from the top as protective fences block any potentially scenic view. Most who travel across that section of US Highway 11, including ourselves, are unaware of the stunning beauty below.
Now for a bridge that really swings . . .
For over 150 years, portions of the Buchanan Swinging Bridge have played an important role in the town's history while providing a scenic pedestrian crossing. The bridge has become the symbol of the Town of Buchanan (pronounced Buck-hanan), Virginia and is featured on the town seal. Buchanan is about 30 miles north of Roanoke on US Route 11.
The Swinging Bridge is one of Virginia's most recognized and unusual architectural structures. The bridge is 366 feet long, 57.5 feet tall and the only one of its type to cross the James River. In 1999, the Swinging Bridge was recognized as a National Register Historic Landmark.
Portions of the large stone piers supporting the bridge above the James River were constructed in 1851 as part of the Buchanan Turnpike Company’s Toll Bridge. Toll for every person to pass through this wood covered bridge was five cents, plus an added five cents for each horse, mule or oxen, and five cents for each wagon. On June 13, 1864 the covered bridge was burned by Confederate General John McCausland in an effort to prevent Union troops from crossing the James River on their way to Lynchburg. The bridge was rebuilt following the war but washed away in 1877 during a flood. At this time, the R&A Railroad Company rebuilt a toll-free covered bridge. In 1897, this wood covered bridge was replaced with a steel bridge that remained in use until 1938.
In July of 1937, construction of the current concrete James River Bridge, shown above, was started with an agreement with the town to maintain pedestrian access to Pattonsburg, VA by way of the swinging bridge. On July 4, 1938, the two new bridges were dedicated by then Governor E. Lee Trinkle.
Yes, we walked across the Swinging Bridge and back again, which is really NOT as unsafe as it might look from the above photo. At the bridge entrance, a sign cautions that there's no running on the bridge and that no more than 3 people cross at a time. In late afternoon, we were the only ones crossing, but heard that the "rules" were not always followed by locals or visitors.