A jubilant crowd of supporters and visitors gathered in drizzling rain on Friday afternoon for the long awaited re-opening of the historic old Clarkton Bridge as a part of the Roanoke River Rails to Trails. The bridge is a segment of the state's new Tobacco Heritage Trail with the first segment of that rail opened recently by Governor Mark Warner. The trail connects two stops on the Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail - the bridge and Red Hill, the last home and burial place of Patrick Henry.
The old humpback structure, which spans the scenic Staunton River, links Halifax and Charlotte Counties and is now open to non-motorized traffic - pedestrians, bikers, hikers and horseback riders.
“So many people have worked to make this project a reality,” said Ted Bennett, a former member of the Virginia House of Delegates, who worked hard to save the historic old structure from demolition after officials with the Virginia Department of Transportation had announced its death knell back in 2004. But with the work of members of the Clarkton Bridge Alliance, led by P. K. Pettus, anonymous donors contributed $225,000 to the restoration effort. W. C. English Construction Company was recognized for agreeing to manage the repairs with the assistance of the Schwartz Company, both of Lynchburg. While local forest products landowners and producers, led by Morgan Lumber of Red Oak with contributions from H&M Logging of South Boston, Amelia Lumber Company, Ontario Hardwood of Keysville, Mead-Westvaco of Appomattox, J.M. Huber of Crystal Hill, Carolina Commonwealth Forest Products, Gregory Lumber of Java and Stanley Land & Lumber of Drakes Branch provided the lumber for the newly decked bridge, as well as hand rails on the bridge and its approaches.
Other contributors included Smurfit Stone Container Corporation, Moore's Chevrolet of Clarksville and Megan Nicole Devin and Elizabeth Oreanna Devin of Wylliesburg, as well as VDOT which changed its course of action to give the bridge a final reprieve.
After announcing a date for demolition to begin back in May 2004, then state Highway Commissioner Philip Shucet met with bridge supporters, who implored him “in the name of democracy” to find a way to help save the structure. And a citizen rally which followed at the bridge got statewide recognition, conveying the strength of support for the historic old bridge, built in 1901.
But as Gary Walker, chairman of the Charlotte County Supervisors pointed out, the effort to save the bridge had begun some ten years earlier when Charlotte County Supervisor Haywood Hamlet had sought support from VDOT to renovate the bridge.
Halifax County support had begun with efforts by Doug Powell several years ago to get the backing of the Old Dominion Resource, Conservation and Development Council. APVA Preservation Virginia along with the Virginia Historic Properties Revolving Fund also played significant roles in the restoration of the bridge as did the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Southern Environmental Law Center.
But on Friday it was the members of the next generation who had the opportunity to cut the ribbon opening the grand old structure to its new use as Cub Scouts with Pack No. 59 of Charlotte County and Pack No. 357 of Halifax did the honors.
The Scouts were backed by music provided by the Randolph Henry High School Band.