The West Virginia. Cyclopedia
Looking north from the speakers' stand at the crowd of more than 30,000 present for the dedication of the New River Gorge Bridge in 1977.
Celebrating the Completion of the New River Gorge Bridge
The dedication and opening of the New River Gorge Bridge took place on the north side of the bridge, near Fayetteville, WV, on October 22, 1977. The day was warm autumn day with a cloudless sky, and the foliage of the New River Gorge and the surrounding region were nearing their height of fall color change. A crowd of an estimated 30-35,000 persons gathered for the event, and most walked across the bridge following the ceremonies. Some walked dogs, another road a horse, and a 13-year old boy recently recovered from a surgery that allowed him to walk without braces struggled the length of the span, accompanied by his father to keep a promise to himself that he would "walk the bridge."
At both ends of the bridge, in the median area, and along the roadside, a carnival atmosphere prevailed as vendors in small mobile stands dispensed liquid refreshments, foodstuffs, and souvenirs. Long lines of parked cars extended in each direction for miles along the expressway leading to the bridge. Congressman Harley Staggers called the huge crowd that had gathered for the dedication the "largest crowd to attend any public meeting in West Virginia." (1)
Government and industry leaders took time to oratorically praise the record-setting structure: created in the course of a decade by man and machine. Hailed as a provider of "new transportation and new life blood," Gov. John D. Rockefeller, IV, told the crowd "only God can build a mountain or spill a river and make it exist in such harmony that no one can doubt who the master of builders is." He also reminded his listens that the people must provide what is necessary and still protect natural beauty.
Bands from five area high schools performed prior to the start of the ceremonies, while musical selections during the program were played by Charlie McCoy, country and western musician, and Russ Hicks. A large motorcade of some 200 guests then journeyed to the White Oak Country Club at Oak Hill where they were hosted at luncheon by United States Steel Corporation, the prime contractor of the bridge.
Interestingly, the New River Gorge Bridge had been opened to traffic for a brief 60-hour period, prior to the bridge's dedication ceremonies. The bridge was temporarily opened beginning at noon on Friday, Oct. 14, 1977, to "accommodate the expected heavy weekend traffic" that was expected due to the opening of hunting season. The bridge was closed (again) on Sunday, at midnight, to allow the Dept. of Highways crews to finish highway markings on the bridge and to perform other work required before the official opening the bridge which took place the following weekend.
The Baker Engineer, Vol. XXV, 1977, Special Edition prepared especially for New River Banking & Trust Co., Michael Baker Corp.
1. Fayette Tribune article Dedication of the New River Gorge Bridge, Oct. 27, 1977
2. Beckley Post-Herald article 60-Hour Period: George Bridge Opens Today, Oct. 14, 1977
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