Historic Gervais Street Bridge, magnificence in West Columbia’s back yard

By November 3, 2017Good News

Historic Gervais Street Bridge, magnificence in West Columbia’s back yard

The Gervais Street Bridge is one of the most-recognizable and enduring structures in South Carolina. The bridge, and its location, have a long, colorful history.

It’s no wonder that artists often line the banks of its river attempting to recreate, on canvas, the bridge’s majesty and elegance.

On the West Columbia side, the bridge is accessed from Meeting Street and it connects Lexington County to Richland County.

“The bridge is an iconic symbol,” said West Columbia Mayor Bobby Horton. “It’s not a wall and it symbolizes the continuing cooperation between the Capitol City of Columbia and West Columbia.”

The Bridge Dinner, that is held annually in October for 1,000 guests on the bridge is a demonstration of the unity the bridge represents.

Soda City’s Emile DeFelice is the organizer of the Bridge Dinner. It was established after the floods of 2015 devastated parts of Richland and Lexington counties. DeFelice called the bridge a defining landmark of the Midlands.

And he said the Bridge Dinner brings all the residents of the area together at the “one big symbol of commonality.”

And while the bridge is bigger than life, it’s not hard to experience.

Horton alluded to the access under the bridge via the West Columbia Riverwalk. The foundations of the Civil War-era bridge that was burned when Union Army Gen. W.T. Sherman approached Columbia are still visible under the Gervais Street Bridge.

The bridge is described as a four-lane arch bridge opening access of of US 1 and US 378. The bridge has 11 spans and its total length is 1,415 feet. Its width is 36.1 feet

The original construction cost was $597,167. The construction of it began in 1926 and was completed in 1928.

The confluence of the Saluda, Broad and Congaree rivers, where the bridge stands, has always been a strategic point.

Every February, next-to the bridge and West Columbia’s Riverwalk, reenators, dressed in Union Army garb, fire cannon to mimic the 1865 “Shelling of Columbia.”

The bridge is flanked by sidewalks. “The balustrades along the edges of the bridge carry green-painted, cast iron light fixtures at intervals. The decorative fixtures of these lamp posts have the letter C and a palmetto palms on the bases, a vine pattern on the eight-sided post, and an acanthus leaf design on the necking. according to the book “Gervais Street Bridge, Richland County”. South Carolina Department of Archives and History.

According to the book “Scenes from Columbia’s Riverbanks,” written by Bennie Deas-Moore and published in 2008 by The History Press: The bridge is one of four open spandrel concrete bridges in South Carolina as well as the oldest and most decorative of the three bridges that cross the Congaree
River.

Because of its magnificence, and the fact that so much high-profile history is associated with the bridge, it was added to the the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.

The story of the Gervais Street Bridge would not be complete without mention of its predecessors.

The first bridge at the site was built around 1827. It was the bridge that was burned by Confederates during the Civil War, in 1865, in an effort to stop Union troops headed to Columbia.

The second bridge at the site was built in 1870. It was privately owned until 1912, when it was purchased by Richland County in cooperation with Lexington County, according to the State of South Carolina Archives. That bridge lasted until it was replaced by the current Gervais Street Bridge.

When it opened in 1928, the current bridge was the widest road in South Carolina. The Gervais Street Bridge was the only bridge across the Congaree River until 1953.

The bridge also has its share of lore. It is said to be haunted by a girl who hitches a ride with drivers. But once she gets in the car, she vanishes before reaching her destination.

Another story involving the bridge site, from the Meeting Street side in West Columbia, involves Lexington County Constable James Earle Price. In 1925, he got a tip that a bootlegger was planning to cross the bridge into Columbia. Price, who was the great uncle of West Columbia businessman and civic leader Bill Mooneyhan, blocked the bridge with “Brookland” Mayor Lemeul Hall. A gunfight ensued and Price, who also shot the bootlegger, was killed. A composite photo of Price is on display in the West Columbia Police Department lobby, at City Hall.

For the people of West Columbia, to see that the Gervais Street Bridge is appreciated just reinforces what they already know. The bridge is a monument to the people who identify with its grandeur and appreciate its significance.

Full story at westmetronews.com.

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