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Clarkton Bridge Granted 120-Day Reprieve From Demolition

June 4, 2003

The Clarkton Bridge Demolition versus Preservation saga has taken an interesting twist, with potential tourism development pivotal in finding a reason for VA Dept of Transportation Secretary Witt Clement to grant a 120 day reprieve from imminent demolition of the bridge.

Thanks to the vigilance of Charlotte County residents, including P.K. Pettus and many others who founded the grassroots organization Friends of the Staunton River, citizens from both counties are now rallying around the opportunity to preserve the historic structure as a bridge for future economic development.

The potential adaptive reuse of the National Historic Register eligible structure include: provide a destination for Charlotte/Halifax County and the Central Virginia Birding Trail as a pedestrian bridge and access point to a "blueway" (a canoeing trail system which would not encumber private land) along the Scenic Staunton River at the Charlotte County boat landing.

Ms. Pettus, a native of Keysville, now serves as a consultant for Philanthropic Organizations, and is assisting Loudon County in its historic preservation and heritage tourism planning.

"The effort to save Clarkton Bridge is an outcome of a meeting I hosted in Keysville on April 1 to discuss possible stops in Charlotte County for a driving loop on the Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail," she said.

"Fifty four people attended that meeting and another 21 called me later to describe their interest in the trail. Many people suggested the Clarkton Bridge as a stop for the birding and wildlife trail," she added.

After contacting Charlotte County supervisor Haywood Hamlet, she learned that demolition was imminent. Hamlet had long endorsed efforts to save the bridge.

"He was glad to hear that the birding trail provided a new reason to save it and encouraged my efforts see if there might be something we could do," she said.

In his e-mail response to the Pettus letter dated May 19, Secretary Clement granted the 120 secession with the following proviso: "It must be clearly understood that whatever proposal or potential partnership that you have in mind or that you might craft must be based on the fact that VDOT not have any future liability or responsibility-legal, financial or otherwise- of any kind as to the continued existence of the bridge."

Halifax County Bridge supporters are marshalling the troops back to the banks of the Staunton River.

Douglas Powell, along with Agricultural Director Linda Wallace, assisted private landowners in Halifax with nominating VA Birding Trail sites last fall as well as identifying public venues at area State Parks.

Powell, who was instrumental in establishment of the Wilson Kautz Virginia Civil War Trail marker across from the Halifax Courthouse and War Memorial, also represents Halifax County on Virginia's Retreat, the Southside Virginia tourism consortium.

Recently Powell hosted a gathering of local supporters to develop a successful strategy to secure the bridge while the feasibility of a new use can be studied."It can be a key site for ecotourism in our county and in Charlotte County," Powell told the bridge supporters.

For the next 30 days, volunteers in Halifax and Charlotte counties will network with local participants and elected representatives in addition to researching successful joint private/public ventures throughout the country which have adapted historic truss bridges for pedestrian as tourism destinations.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has an engineering department solely dedicated to stabilization and reuse of historic bridges and, according to Pettus, they are in contact with her office.

Dan Shaw, who serves on the Halifax County Chamber of Commerce Tourism Advisory Board representing the Town of Halifax, has digitized the Clarkton Bridge site in addition to dozens of driving tours, historic homes and locations throughout the county.

Town of Halifax Planner Carl Espy sees the tremendous potential for linking the Prizery Welcome Center and the Halifax Courthouse. both in the center of Downtown revitalization activity, as the logical springboards for county wide tourism.

"Dan's efforts to host website virtual tours' throughout the county will play an important role in marketing the area's historic, cultural, scenic and natural assets to the world," Espy speculated. "Also his interactive map will prove to be a commanding exhibit of how many of our tourism-related activities would serve the Clarkton Bridge preservation cause in economic terms, generating dollars for the community," he added.

To view the Halifax County Virtual Tour map type

or go the Halifax County Chamber of Commerce site @

Virginia Tourism Corporation's new President & CEO, Alisa Bailey will be hosting a brief "Meet VTC" gathering at Berry Hill Conference Center on Wednesday, June 4 at 3:00 PM in Classroom C.

The meeting is part of a tourism tour through Central Virginia, including the Town's of Halifax and South Boston, and has been coordinated by Wirt Shapard Confroy, Halifax County native and Director of VTC's Electronic Marketing division.

So far, a determined group of citizens in Charlotte and Halifax have illustrated to state authorities how the historic structure will serve as a bridge to a brighter economic future.

By preserving & adapting the past, Charlotte/Halifax Counties can build upon their under-utilized historic infrastructure, connecting the region with some of the fastest growing economic sectors in the state, including heritage tourism, outdoor recreation & nature excursions (birding, biking, boating, fishing, hiking, & horseback) and agri-tourism (visiting and working on family farms).

The next test will be finding a suitable interim owner to relieve the Department of Transportation of its liability and expense. Local preservationists will cross that bridge.

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