Aging infrastructure are among the hardest historic resources to preserve, particularly bridges. The reason is public safety. Cars and trucks are larger and heavier, and drive faster. Thanks to GPS, travelers are finding more out-of-the-way routes, putting additional wear and tear on smaller bridges not designed to hold the increased level of traffic. In the 1920s and 1930s, dozens of single-lane low-water bridges were built across Virginia rivers. Only a handful remain. Here are three that span the Shenandoah.
The low-water bridge at Bixlers Ferry has been replaced with a higher two-lane bridge. The old bridge is still in place, but is not being maintained and is only accessible by foot, if you don’t mind getting your feet wet. It’s easy to see how the new bridge has changed the historic landscape.
The low-water bridge on Indian Hollow Road near Bentonville still provides access to the Low Water Campground on the west side of the Shenandoah. Footings for the new bridge that will replace it are under construction.
Finally, there is the low-water bridge at Morgan’s Ford, just north of Front Royal. Driving across this bridge offers intimate views up and down the Shenandoah, similar to being actually on the water. The Morgan’s Ford bridge is also scheduled to be replaced with a modern, higher, two-lane bridge. The new bridge will drastically change the historic viewshed of the river, but it’s hard to fight against the argument of public safety. In March 2010, a woman drowned after trying to cross the bridge with 2 feet of standing water over the bridge. Floodgates were installed later that year. In August 2013, two people drowned after their car flipped off the bridge and landed in the river.