(A special thanks to Joe Barkley II for providing this 12 year old newspaper edition.)
Bridge Closure "major inconvenience"
Times-Dispatch state staff, Sunday, January 20, 1991
CLARKTON - The deeply creviced wooden boards and rusty nailheads along Clarkton Bridge disclose its age.
But like an old friend, the recently closed bridge is valued by area residents.
It served as a shortcut between Halifax and Charlotte counties for almost a century, and more than 200 people want to see it reopened as soon as possible.
"Doggone it. It's just a major inconvenience," said William R. Carr Jr., who lives in Halifax, just two miles from the bridge. He now must drive more than 25 miles to get to the other side of the bridge. Carr used the bridge, which spans the Staunton River, to take his fire cured tobacco to market in Farmville and to visit friends in Charlotte.
Halifax and Charlotte residents petitioned their boards of supervisors this month and got resolutions passed in supporting of repairing the bridge, which was closed Dec. 6 by the Virginia Department of Transportation for safety reasons.
After barricades went up, those nearby started taking almost 30-mile detours to get to one county or the other - trips that, for most, used to take fewer than 13 miles.
On Dec. 5, a routine inspection of the 673-foot steel truss bridge on state Route 620 showed that it had settled 6 inches and had shifted, creating a threat to motorists, said J.D. Barkley II, a Transportation Department engineer.
"Repairing the obsolete structure is not possible and replacing may not be practical," a transportation report said.
The closing "was sort of a shock," said Emmit Mason, 54, who lives about two miles from the bridge in Charlotte. "For everybody in this part of Halifax and Charlotte, the bridge just means so much to us because it has been here all our lives."
Mason used the bridge two or three times a week to go to dinner and visit friends in Halifax.
"The bridge was used a lot - a lot more than people think," he said.
An average of 54 cars crossed the bridge daily, according to the Transportation Department.
State records on the bridge go back to 1940, but Mason's mother has a postcard that she says dates the span to at least 1910.
While the bridge's exact history is not documented, Charlotte Supervisor Haywood Hamlet surmised that the bridge was a joint effort between the Clark and Bruce families.
At the turn of the century, the Clark family lived on the Halifax side of the bridge and the Bruce family on the Charlotte side. To allow the families to visit one another, the bridge was built, Hamlet said.
Mason agreed with Hamlet's story. Mason's grandfather was the overseer at the Clark family plantation, and his mother was born there in 1908 and lived there until 1926. Mason's father was born on the Bruce plantation.
Charles Thomas Clark built the Clarkton Plantation. It had 5,000 acres and was considered one of the largest tobacco plantations in the South, said Julia Carrington, who works at the South Boston library. Charles Bruce's family owned Staunton Hill plantation on the Charlotte side of the bridge and Berry Hill plantation outside Halifax.
From August to November, the Clarkton bridge was especially important to. flue-cured tobacco farmers in the area.
Jerry Claybrook, 61, used the bridge every day during tobacco season last year to go to market in South Boston.
"I hauled a whole crop of tobacco over that bridge this past year," said Claybrook, who farms 20 acres of tobacco in Charlotte.
"We need that bridge fixed. We now have to make a great loop around on those crooked roads," he said. "Charlotte County don't get very much but we need that bridge. It has a little dip in it, but I suspect they can fix it.
Dairy farmers Herbert and Cookie Milton, who also live in Charlotte, used the bridge every day. Their property lies on both sides of the Clarkton Bridge.
The Miltons keep their heifers on 180 acres in Halifax. They have four of their cows over there now.
"It's a right big deal now to just to check on the cows," Mrs. Milton said. "We're waiting for the bridge to open to bring them over."
She said the family can't use its cattle trailer because it is restricted for farm use - meaning that it can't be driven more than 20 miles off their farm, Milton said.
To tend to the cows, the Miltons take a 26.7 mile alternative route through Brookneal and over the U.S. 501 bridge. The trip was 12 miles long when the Clarkton bridge was open.
A year ago Barkley, the highway engineer, advised both county boards about the poor condition of the bridge, then limited to vehicles of no more than 3 tons each.
Barkley said the bridge's age and its abuse by over-the-limit trucks contributed to its closing.
He estimated that repairs, if they are possible, would cost between $30,000 and $50,000 to bring the bridge up to its 3-ton per vehicle limit. He estimated that a new bridge would cost between $1.5 million and $2 million. Funds to repair or build a new bridge would come out of an allocation that each county receives from the state.
The Transportation Department will reassess the bridge and give a report to the county boards at their February meetings.