St. Albans residents reflect as old bridge dismantled
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Dozens of St. Albans residents gathered at the St. Albans Roadside Park Tuesday afternoon to say goodbye to a piece of the local skyline.
Crews with the state Division of Highways and Kokosing Construction removed the first section of steel superstructure from the Richard "Dick" Henderson Memorial Bridge, which has connected Nitro and St. Albans since 1934.
Passersby started gathering at the park Tuesday morning after workers connected the center of the bridge to the boom of a 250-foot crane.
The crowd thickened when welders - hoisted in the air by bucket trucks positioned on a small barge - started cutting into the steel superstructure.
Rock Branch resident Casandra Null was one of those who made an unplanned stop at the Roadside Park to watch the action.
Null, 28, brought her border collie, Frizzle, into town Tuesday morning when the bridge work caught her eye.
"I had just went to the store and saw the crane and thought they might do something, so I came down here," she said.
Although she is young, her family has an old tie to the nearly 79-year-old span over the Kanawha River.
Null's great-grandfather was Earl Cooper, the mayor of Nitro when the bridge opened in 1934. Cooper rode in the first car to drive across the bridge when it opened.
Since her great-grandfather was there to see it open, Null thought it might be fitting that she stay for a while and watch the bridge come down.
Karen Meadows also dropped by to see the bridge one last time.
The 56-year-old has lived in St. Albans since the day she was born, and the bridge is just something she's used to seeing every day.
"That's just a part of my life," she said. "Growing up, my parents talked about how they used to ride the ferry across the river and how excited they were once this bridge was built."
While it was a part of her life, she said given the condition it was in, she wasn't sad to see the bridge come down.
"I'm glad they are doing it. We need a new one," she said.
Her mother-in-law lives across the river in Nitro. While she's had to plan extra travel time to visit her lately, she said she's not bothered by it.
"It's an inconvenience, but we need a new one," Meadows said. "It'll be done before you know."
Ten feet away from Meadows, Hervie Guthrie peered through his binoculars, watching welders cut through one of the steel beams in the superstructure.
Guthrie, 61, had been down by the river since around 9 a.m. watching crews work.
Like Meadows, Guthrie is a lifelong St. Albans resident who has been around the bridge his whole life.
Guthrie grew up in a yellow house just down river from the bridge.
As a kid, he used to go out onto the bridge with his brothers and friends, climb down to the top of the pier and eat bologna or peanut butter sandwiches and play cards or Monopoly.
"I can't believe we were stupid enough to do that," he said. "We had no fear of falling or dying. We were just being young and brave."
When they were feeling extra brave, they would jump off the pier into the Kanawha River below.
"It wasn't the jump that was scary, it was wondering whether or not I'd come back up," he said.
When he entered adulthood, the bridge set the scene for more romantic affairs.
"Me and my first wife used to park underneath there and make out," he said, pointing at the area underneath the bridge, just near the shoreline.
"We were in a '65 Oldsmobile 442 and it was smoking," he said. "I think some of the youngsters still go down there and use that site today."
While he has fond memories, he is like Meadows in that he's not sad to see the dilapidated structure come down.
"I'm just glad I lived long enough to see it being done," Guthrie said.
"It's been a long time coming," said John Cashwell.
Cashwell, 58, grew up in Dunbar but moved to St. Albans in 1991.
He said he was on the bridge many times when he doubted he would make it off.
"There's times I have been up there in traffic and you could just feel it moving," he said. "I'm excited to see them tear it down."
Null said she recently had a friend visit from out of state who was shocked by the condition of the bridge.
"We got stopped on there and she could feel it moving and just looked at me like, 'Oh, my God,' " Null said.
Cashwell said the fearful stories that people share make him realize the inconvenience is worth it.
"It's just part of life," he said. "You've just got to plan, be aware and just re-route."
The first section of the steel superstructure came down about 6 p.m. Tuesday.
Crews cut out the bridge's center first and now will work back from the center until the last pieces of steel are gone.
The pieces will be hauled by barge to a Kokosing storage area in St. Albans before being auctioned off as scrap.
The demolition is expected to take several weeks. After that, crews will do some work on the existing pier caps before beginning construction of the new three-lane replacement bridge.
The new bridge is expected to be complete sometime in November.
Contact writer Jared Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5148.