The West Virginia. Cyclopedia
New River Gorge Bridge
The New River Gorge Bridge, at Fayetteville, WV, carries the U.S. 19 freeway over the New River Gorge and, at 876-feet above the New River, is the highest U.S. bridge east of the Mississippi River and the longest steel-arch span in the western hemisphere. Visitors may opt to visit the National Park Service's Canyon Rim Visitor Center, at the north end of the bridge, or travel the winding scenic route through the gorge beneath the bridge. At least, that is, through most of the year; however, on Bridge Day (the third Saturday in October), visitors may actually walk out onto the span. As many as 200,000 people converge on the bridge over the course of Bridge Day. BASE jumpers then may legally parachute off the bridge while repellers descend on ropes beneath the span like colorful silk worms. Typically, more than 200 vendors provide delicious foods and fantastic entertainment!
Origin of the Bridge Day Festival
The dedication and opening of the New River Gorge Bridge took place on the bridge on October 22, 1977, with a crowd of more than 30,000 onlookers present, many of whom walked across the 3,030 foot span following the dedication ceremony. Long lines of parked cars extended in each direction for several miles along the expressway. At both ends of the bridge, a carnival atmosphere prevailed, as vendors in small mobile stands dispensed drinks, foodstuffs and souvenirs. Country musician, Charlie McCoy, played the National Anthem on a harmonica. This original celebration of the completion of the New River Gorge Bridge lead to the annual Bridge Day Festival, first observed on November 8, 1980.
Early Plans for a New River Gorge Park
Because of the uniqueness of the New River Gorge Bridge, included in the contract was construction of a parking area and overlook at one end of the structure, allowing sightseers to view the surrounding landscape. (1) Shortly before the contract for the bridge construction was awarded, various officials of the state announced plans for construction of a park to allow visitors to view the construction of the bridge, and spoke of even more elaborate plans which centered around a state park, named Canyon Rim State Park, which was to be built on the north side of the bridge. (2)
In April of 1972, Gov. Arch Moore, Jr., noted at a Fayette Plateau Chamber of Commerce meeting that the bridge would undoubtedly become a major tourism attraction and announced plans by the state to purchase about 2,000 acres of land at "Canyon Rim" near the bridge site for tourism related development. (3) In a May 21, 1973 Fayette County newspaper article, State Senator Pat R. Hamilton, of Oak Hill, commented on plans by the West Virginia's Department of Natural Resources to Canyon Rim State Park, and provided an extensive list of recreational facilities and historical preservation efforts being planned for the proposed park. (5)
During the early construction phases of the bridge, the state established two visitors overlooks, on opposite sides of New River, and opened a 4.78 mile section of Corridor L from the intersection with Rt. 60, at Hico, to allow visitors to watch the construction of the New River Gorge Bridge. (6) By 1976, the Canyon Rim State Park was still in the "planning stages", but the two overlooks had been expanded, and were opened from dawn until dusk. The north visitor's overlook could be reached by driving the section of Corridor L from U. S. 60, near Hico, and signs directed motorists along secondary roads leading to Fayetteville, to the south side overlook, just upstream of Kaymoor.
Building of the New River Gorge Bridge
The New River Gorge Bridge was designed by the Transportation Division of Michael Baker, Jr., Inc. and erected by U. S. Steel's American Bridge Division. The bridge was a vital link in the state's Appalachian Corridor "L" expressway system which was designed to provide direct access to Interstate Highways 77 at Beckley, WV and 79 at Sutton, WV.
In 1968, the State Road Commission of West Virginia directed the consulting firm, Michael Baker, Jr., Inc., to proceed with the design of an 11-mile-long section of highway under the Appalachian Development Highway Program, which included a 3,000-foot-long bridge over an 850-foot deep New River Gorge, near Fayetteville, WV. By 1970 plans were being advanced for the construction of the New River Bridge, then envisioned as a 2,400-foot long suspension span. However, sometime prior to early-1972, the consulting firm had determined the steel arch design would be more economical and would better adapt to the construction area. On June 28, 1973, the West Virginia Department of Highways awarded a contract to the American Bridge Division of the United States Steel Corporation for the construction of the New River Gorge Bridge.
By July of 1973, core drilling had begun, preliminary to the placing of two suspension cables across the gorge. (5) On Oct. 17. 1973, the Beckley Post-Herald reported that preliminary site preparation had been completed, and that workers were preparing to put in the footers for the bridge's nine land piers and two abutments. At about the same time, access roads for trucks hauling materials were installed on the north and south approaches to the bridge site and plans were being made to begin erection of a twin cableway over the New River Gorge by late October. The erection highline, or cableway system, would be used to hoist and set structural steel in place for erection of the structure. The materials would be transported to the site by truck or rail. Larger steel members were shipped to a railroad siding in the bottom of the gorge near Fayette Station and from there trucked to the job site. Most of the 22,000 tons of structural steel for the bridge project was fabricated at the American Bridge Divisioin's Ambridge, Pa., plant. All of the structural steel was USS COR-TEN steel, a steel that oxides with age to form a dark russet color that blends with the rugged terrain of Southern West Virginia.
New River Gorge Bridge Stamp
1. Fayette Tribune article New River Span To Have Largest Arch In World, Oct. 10, 1973
2. Fayette Tribune article Fabulous Bridge, May 21, 1973
3. Fayette Tribune article Largest Steel-Arch Bridge 'Designed and Ready To Go', April 24, 1972
4. Fayette Tribune article Fabulous Bridge to Bring Canyon Rim State Park, May 21, 1973
5. Charleston Gazette article A Big Hole to Fill With a Bridge, July 7, 1973
6. Fayette Tribune" article Corridor "L" To Bridge Site Now Open To Public, Says SDH, Oct. 31, 1975