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BridgeUnionRep1Apr1915

This announcement appeared in the Union Republican, Thursday, April 1, 1915

Around 1815, 200 years ago, Stephen Riddle established Riddle’s Ferry on the Yadkin River near Clemmons. Soon thereafter, he moved to Indiana. 100 years later, his great grandson, J.L. Riddle, a vice president at the Vincennes Bridge Company in Vincennes, Indiana, was back at the old ferry site, overseeing the building of the first permanent bridge over the Yadkin in Forsyth County.

Over the years, the old ferry site had been operated under a number of names…Douthit’s, Idol’s and Hall’s. Tradition had it that sometime around 1840 someone had built a wooden bridge across the Yadkin nearby, hoping to cash in on tolls, but that scheme had collapsed when the bridge collapsed moments after a four horse team had passed safely over.

Between 1608 and the 20th century, ferries were essential, but they were also nuisances, because they cost money to use, were often inconveniently scheduled and were always dependent upon weather. People had been talking for decades about building a bridge across the Yadkin. Other places had them. Why not us? The railroad had long ago built a bridge near the same site. All that accomplished for the average Joe was to make him more dependent upon the railroad.

BicycleTrestle

Bicycle excursions to the railroad bridge were a popular pastime for college students in the 1890s. Forsyth County Public Library Picture Collection

Farmers in Davie and Yadkin County were the most affected. As Winston, and to a lesser extent, Salem, became major economic engines, the farmers were forced to use the ferries or drive their wagons to the old Shallow Ford and hope that the water was low enough to cross. At the time, Yadkin County, mostly for political reasons, was a very poor county. Davie was far better off. So the strongest impetus for a bridge came from the citizens of Mocksville and Farmington.

1907Map

The 1907 C.M. Miller map of Forsyth County shows the location of the Riddle/Idol/Hall ferry near Clemmons.

Finally, in 1912, the county commissioners of Davie and Forsyth Counties got together and got serious about building a bridge. They decided that the bridge should be built at the old ferry site. In early 1913, they signed a contract with the Vincennes Bridge Company of Vincennes, Indiana and construction began. The initial price was $31,000.

FriesPower

The Fries Power and Manufacturing Company’s hydroelectric dam and powerhouse, one of the first in the South, opened in 1898. Old Salem Museums & Gardens

The bridge would be modern in every way. The supports would be poured concrete, set deep on bedrock. The bridge itself would be a double trestle of the latest steel. And the roadbed would be 4×6” solid oak planks, carefully matched for maximum smoothness.

For the most part, things went smoothly. In late December, 1914, a lengthy downpour of rain caused the river to rise sixteen feet. Workers were using wooden scaffolds to assemble the parts of the steel trestles. On January 1, 1915, some of those scaffolds had sunken a bit into the mud, but no one noticed. Suddenly one of the scaffolds collapsed, sending several workers plunging to the river bank 25 feet below. One of them, Charles Sheek, who lived about a mile from the bridge site, did not get up. He was buried a few days later at Macedonia Moravian Church, leaving behind a widow and four children.

But by spring, the bridge was nearing completion. On April 1, the commissioners announced that the bridge would open on Easter Sunday, the 4th, and that there would be a free public celebration, complete with a barbecue, speeches and fishing and boating, with equipment, even bait, provided free of charge.

CommFriApr2

Davie and Forsyth County commissioners gather to drive the first car across the bridge on Good Friday, 1915.

On Good Friday, April 2, 1915, the commissioners of the two counties gathered to inspect the bridge. After convincing themselves that it would not collapse, they all piled into a single touring car and were driven across. Next came a ten ton steam roller. A reporter at the scene said that the bridge gave never a quiver. The next to cross was William Franklin James of Farmington in his wagon, which would be for some time the most common conveyance on the bridge. The last to pass over was another touring car containing J.L. Riddle and his wife and the chief engineer and designer, J.N. Ambler and his wife. Mr. Riddle then presented a souvenir book to all present, mostly workers from the bridge building crew. On the flyleaf was inscribed the poem “The Bridge Builder”, by Will Allen Dromgoole, published around 1900.

BridgePic

The Riddles, left, and the Amblers pose on the bridge, Good Friday, 1915.

The bridge was then closed until Easter Sunday morning, when it was opened to the public. The big celebration, which attracted a large crowd, was held the next day, Easter Monday. We have no report on how many fish were caught. A couple of weeks after the bridge opened, someone counted more than 100 cars passing through Mocksville in a single day, some from as far away as New York and Baltimore.

In conjunction with the building of the bridge, the US Office of Good Roads improved the highway’s sand/clay surface from Peter’s Creek in Winston-Salem to Statesville in Iredell County as part of the US Post Road system. Three other steel bridges were built, over Peter’s Creek in Winston-Salem and Hunting Creek and Dutchman Creek in Davie County. The US office also “paved” a 3,200 foot section of the road, extending from Peter’s Creek up the steep Atwood hill, by binding gravel with a bituminous substance. That road was then known as Paper Mill Road and is now Academy Street from Peter’s Creek Parkway to Hawthorne Road. The city of Winston-Salem built the Peter’s Creek bridge and the paving was the first federally funded stretch of highway in Forsyth County. Atwood was an important water and coaling station on the railroad near what is now Hanes Mall. The work on the road was an important factor in the development of Ardmore.

1940BridgeConstr

The new bridge, 1940, under construction, next to the original 1915 structure. Forsyth County Public Library Picture Collection

A new, more modern bridge replaced the 1915 bridge in 1940. That bridge was replaced by a newer one a few years ago.

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