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New James Rumsey Bridge opens to vehicles, pedestrians

July 16, 2005|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - A group of two adults, eight excited children and one unhappy boy in a Spider-Man outfit made footsteps of history under a hot sun Friday afternoon.

They were the first people to walk across the new James Rumsey Bridge in Shepherdstown when it opened to traffic a few minutes after 3 p.m.

"It's pretty cool to know that my grandpa went on that old bridge when it was first built and now I'm on this bridge," Samantha Yates, 10, said as she was about halfway across. "So it's pretty cool, even if I was a little scared."

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The others who made the trek were Yates' mother, Beth, sister Sydney, 8, brother Richard, 6, and brother Alex, 4 (who was crying and had to be carried across by his mother); Hilary Lo and her children Josephine, 7, and Clara, 5; Katy Super, 10; Grace Skidmore, 8; and Sarah Skidmore - who turns 7 today. All are from Shepherdstown.

Work still remains to be done on the $18.9 million, 1,100-foot bridge, which crosses the Potomac River and the C&O Canal National Historical Park's towpath.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held soon, officials with the West Virginia Division of Highways said.

The bridge, which was made in part with 1,996 tons of structural steel, has two 12-foot lanes and an 8-foot sidewalk on one side.

"I proclaim it a sturdy bridge," Beth Yates said after reaching the Maryland side.

The old bridge, which is patched in several places and has crumbling sidewalks, will be demolished in about a year, said Bob Amtower, acting district engineer for the state Division of Highways.

Walking paths will lead to both Shepherd University's campus and the towpath.

The roadways leading to the old bridge will be converted into scenic overlook spots, project engineer Brandon Kline said.

The river beneath the bridge eventually will be returned to its former state. Because of construction, the river was dammed, minus one causeway.

Kline said some fishermen asked that the causeway be left in place since fish tended to linger in the area of still water it created.

Construction crews likely have one more year of work ahead, Kline said.

Jo Ann Knode was the first person to drive across the bridge, an honor given to her because she allowed construction workers to use her property to park their cars and store equipment. She lives on the Maryland side of the river, underneath the bridge by the towpath.

Knode is friends with the project superintendent and came to know many of the construction workers. On Friday, she waited in her car, a Buick LeSabre, at the top of Ferry Hill until orange construction barrels were removed and a construction worker waved her car onto the bridge.

Knode works at the Historic Shepherdstown Museum, which has an exhibit dedicated to the bridges and ferries that have crossed the river over the past centuries. The exhibit includes a program from the former bridge's dedication ceremony in 1939.

The bridge in use before then was destroyed in a 1936 flood, said Knode, who is keeping a scrapbook about the recent construction for the museum.

Now Knode is a part of the history she has helped to maintain.

"I just felt very privileged to do it," she said of being the first driver across.

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