Newspaper Archive of
Spirit of Jefferson Farmers Advocate
Charles Town, West Virginia
May 2, 2018     Spirit of Jefferson Farmers Advocate
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May 2, 2018

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an(l .~AKMt~K b A.L) V OL,:A I P5 h vveu/te~ut~v, ivm,y ,], HISTORY MATTERS D UG PERKS In late June 1861, Confederates de- strayed the Shenandoah River Bridge at Harpers Ferry. At war's end, the U.S. Arrny's pontoon bridge went away, and a ferry resumed operation can'ying traffic from Harpers Ferry to the Hills- borough Turnpike. The first effort at restoring the original bridge occun'ed in the spring of 1870. The Shenando- ah Bridge Company advertised in the Spirit of Jefferson for "Proposals from Bridge Builders" to erect and consla'uct the bridge's wooden superstructure on the old stone bridge piers. The company's president, Solo- man Vance Yantis, announced that he would be available to show the site to prospective bidders and to answer their questions. Unfortunately, Moth- er Nature, not prospective bidders, answered the company's call. There is always the potential for a flood at Harpers Ferry, and around Thanksgiv- ing time in 1870, floodwaters ripped through the town killing 42 men and women and destroying most of the buildings on Virginius Island. The roaring torrent also removed what remained of the two stone bridge piers that had once supported the Shenandoah Bridge. Consequently, plans to rebuild a bridge at the original location were put on hold. Seventeen years later, in August 1878, Soloman Vance Yantis, now the Mayor of Harpers Ferry, chaired a meeting of town citizens who gath- ered in support of the construction of a bridge across the Shenandoah River. It was noted that although the existing ferry conveyed traffic back and forth across the Shenandoah, "when the wa- ter was low, and when it is frozen, and very often at night," the ferry was ei- ther unable to operate or unavailable. In the opinion of those present, a bridge that would replace the ferry "would be of immense advantage, not only to the town, but to the surround- ing country." To that effect, Charles Davis submitted a resolution in sup- port of the bridge, which was adopt- ed by acclamation. A slight snag ap- peared when James M. Mason, repre- senting owners of the ferry, filed suit against the bridge company in an ef- fort to stop its progress. The suit was resolved to the satisfaction of both parties, and plans to construct a new bridge moved forward. In early 1879, the Harper's Ferry Bridge Co. was incorporated by the Secretary of State of West Virginia. The company's directors announced their plan to build an iron bridge "near- er the mouth of the river than the old bridge." The new bridge would consist of four Howe Trusses that stretched 612 feet across the Shenandoah. The trusses would rest on three cut stone piers that were seven feet wide and 22 feet tall. Both ends of the bridge would rest on a cut stone abutment. Samuel Walton did all of the stone- work and the Howe Trusses were built by the King Iron Company of Cleve- land. The northwest end of the bridge terminated at The Point within feet of the entrance to the wagon bridge across the Potomac that went into Maryland. This meant that all traffic leaving Harpers Ferry headed either north or east was funneled onto one or the other of the bridges at The Point. I suspect that on occasion Shenando- ah Street experienced the 19th-century version of a traffic jam! dams were in place and the piers be- Once the abutments on both shores gan to rise from the river bottom. For- were completed, Walton constructed tune held in favor of the new bridge cofferdams in the Shenandoah to fa- and neither the Shenandoah nor the cilitate the building of the cut stone Potomac experienced high water dur- piers. By late in October of 1879, the ing the bridge's construction. LEFT: The Shenandoah Bridge at. Harpers Ferry opened for traffic in ! March 1880. Note the horse drawn . carriage at the Loudoun end of the bridge. The Potomac wagon L bridge can be seen at the top of "- the photograph. threat of floods. You know what th ' say about best-laid plans. The previous decade had experi::, enced two floods - one in 1870 and one in 1877. It looked as if flooding ! would skip a decade until Samrda2 ,' '," June 1, 1889 when the rivers rose to.a, i then record height of nearly 35 feet The Shenandoah Bridge held un- - til early afternoon when first the span nearest Loudoun County, Va was" washed away followed quickly by the' . next two spans. The span that rested, at The Point was the only one to sur- '. vive the flood, and it would last until December 1891 when it was washed away by a heavy wind and rainstorrn. The bridge was re-built, one span a time, early in 1892 by the Vulcan, ' Road Machine and Bridge Company. : of Media, Pennsylvania. The work was firfished in March 1893, and the bridge continued in op-- eration into the twentieth century. Al- though the rivers at Harpers FeiW flooded numerous times after 1889, especially in 1924, the bridges es- caped. That would come to an end in March of 1936 when the rivers reached an all-time record flood level of 36.5 feet, and both the Potomac and , Shenandoah highway bridges were' washed away. Floods created a dilemma because the highway crossings at Harpers Fer- ry were critical to the region. Aban- doning either bridge was not an op- tion. Ferries would suffice as a tempo- rary solution, but forecasts predicted accurately, traffic volume that would, soon overwhelm a ferry. ': So, after decades of building arm re-building at The Point, road engi-iii neers and state Officials determined, to relocate the bridge and reconfig- . ure the highway. In October 1949 : a new Shenandoah Bridge opened' about three quarters of a mile upriv, ' er from the 1880 wagon bridge. The. new bridge carried U.S. 340 across the ABOVE: The 1889 flood at Harpers Shenandoah and connected with tlie Ferry reached a height of 34,8 feet. A U.S. 340 bridge across the Potomac" ; single span is all that remains of the east of Harpers Ferry. Virginia Route Shenandoah Bridge, seen on the right 671 intersected US 340 and connected in this photograph. The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal at the base of Maryland with the old Hillsborough Turnpike. under water.Both the roadway and the bridge were ;; Heights WaS completely LEFT: This aerial photograph of The elevated in an attempt to avoid the dis- Point at Harpers Ferry taken during ruption of traffic by future floods. : the March 1936 flood captures the And this brings us back to the John devastation. Flood waters reached a height of 36.5 feet, still a record and Hancock Hall Bridge. After years of.! both the Potomac and Shenandoah use and numerous automobile acci- highway bridges were swept away, The dents, the 1949 bridge was replaced }i[~', B&O Railroad bridge escaped damage. " "' 2001 by a wider bridge with lmprove t ! sight lines which proved to be mope- In its March 2, 1880 issue, the Spir- it reported: "Work is progressing upon the last span of the Shenandoah bridge at Harper's Ferry, and in the absence of any untoward event, the entire bridge will be completed this week." Nothing untoward happened, and two weeks later, the Spirit reported: "The Shenandoah Bridge at Harper's Ferry is completed." The bridge piers were 22 feet high to match the elevation of The Point, but Walton and the bridge own- ers also hoped that at that height the bridge would be out of the reach of the driver-friendly. This new Shenando- ah River bridge is an admirable way to memorialize John Hall's ingenuity which led to labor saving machinery and interchangeable parts. Keep that in mind as you cross the Shenandoah near the point which Thomas Jeffer- son described as "worth a trip across the Atlantic." - Doug Perks is the historian with the Jefferson County Museum in Charles Town PROUDLY SERVING JEFFERSON COUNTY FOR OVER 56 YEARS ~~+:, i~ili~U~ii)!ii!~i/ i~ i!)i!i May 8 Integrity Home Mortgage Mixer 114 E. 3rd Ave Ranson 5:30 to 7 p.m. May 17' Chamber Business Seminar The Inn at Charles Town 9 to 11:30 a.m. May 24 Legislative Town Hall Recap Epic Buffet at Hollywood Casino Noon to 1: 30 p.m. June 12 Sislers Stone Mixer 165 Bradstone Ln, Harpers Ferry Time T.B.D. Winchester, VA 9 at7pm 30 1St :all Heifers Pairs 25 Bred Special Thanks to all of our Consignors