Richmond is known as “River City” for good reason. The James River is an integral part of our history, dividing, connecting, creating and destroying in turn. The connecting part is the subject of this entry: the bridges of Richmond.

Mayo Bridge, also known as 14th Street Bridge, is located on the site of the oldest of our bridges. Built by the grandson of the creator of Richmond’s grid street system, it was completed in 1788 by John Mayo. The present structure, built in 1913, was a main thoroughfare for streetcar traffic and remains a vital connection between Southside and downtown, transporting vehicles from Route 360. It carries the distinction of being the oldest highway bridge across the James River.

I’ve always loved the image of Richmond’s “Singing Bridge”, the 9th Street Bridge. It “sang” because metal strips were installed in the wooden surface and they hummed as traffic traveled over the bridge.  The singing rose by a fifth as traffic crossed from south to north. Also known as the “free” bridge because it connected the cities of Richmond and Manchester without toll (long a sore subject to residents crossing into town and a condition of the cities’ merger), it flooded often. Finally, in 1972, it was replaced by the present structure (the Manchester Bridge) but I still miss the singing bridge.

Back in the late sixties, I escorted Dust & Ashes to their performance at Pace Memorial Methodist Church in the VCU area. As we approached the Singing Bridge, I advised Tom Page to “Disregard the low speed limit. Drive fast so if it collapses, you’ll already be over it.” He quoted me later that evening and the audience loved it…they knew the bridge well.

My other favorite bridge was completed in 1925. The Nickel Bridge, named for its five cent toll, carries the formal name of the Boulevard Bridge but I dare you to ask any native what they call the lovely path across the James beside the Carillon and Maymont. It’s the Nickel Bridge, no matter how many times the toll has increased. Local lore claims that Medical College of Virginia students handed the toll attendant his nickel…in the hand of a cadaver. And that’s another legend you’ll never be able to dispute in Richmond.

Closest to my family home is the Huguenot Bridge, now under renovation (thank goodness!). The present structure was completed in 1950 but the earlier, lower bridge, the Westham Bridge, built in 1911, comes with a funny story. The My dear friend, Irby Brown, told me that he irritated a fellow traveler badly one morning as he drove to work in Richmond. The bridge was a one lane affair and the driver behind Irby thought Irby should speed up. He blew the horn and shook his fist but Irby wasn’t intimidated. In fact, he stopped in the middle of the bridge, opened his newspaper and proceeded to read the paper. The irate driver got the message.

One last note about bridges concerns my family connection to our bridges. They were a great subject for my great-grandfather’s camera lens and his collection includes lots of bridge photos. His niece, Kathleen Lynch, was one of the country’s first women bridge engineers. Among others, she designed the overpass on Forest Hill Avenue (over Powhite) and I found those blueprints in her records. I’m donating her blueprints, pictures, articles and more to the Department of Transportation for their archives. My love for Richmond’s bridges must be genetic.ImageImage

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