Thursday, April 18, 2024
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Excerpts by Henry Lane Hull

About 40 years ago, a college friend came to visit with his wife and two sons. I gave them a tour of the important sites of the lower Northern Neck. For one of the days they were here, I planned to take them to Williamsburg. When we approached the Norris Bridge, my friend said, “Are we going to cross the river on that?”  

Ever since that day, whenever we speak, he asks, “Do you still have the ‘scary bridge’ across the Rappahannock?” Over the years, numerous folks have referred to “the scary bridge,” a term which has become eponymous with it. Most of those individuals do not realize that today the bridge is less “scary” than it was originally. It now is one foot wider than when it was first built due to the resurfacing that took place between 1993 and 1996. Each lane is six inches wider, but for most people, it is still “scary.” 

The Norris Bridge is named for Sen. Robert O. Norris Jr. of Lively, who represented the Northern Neck in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1912 to 1928, and in the Virginia Senate from 1928 until 1956. He also was an early member of the State Corporation Commission, known to everyone who files an annual corporation registration.

The bridge is 1.9 miles long and the height over the channel is 110 feet. The ferry that preceded the bridge crossed at the same location, immediately north of the current bridge. Originally, it went from Irvington to Urbanna, and it had been moved to shorten the journey.

An ancillary result of the moving of the location was the re-numbering of Routes 3 and 200. As Route 3 is the more important road, it went through Irvington to the ferry dock, and Route 200 went from Burgess to White Stone. Many years after the bridge was built, the numbers were switched, making Route 3 the more direct route. Many of the mileage distance signs in the Middle Peninsula continue to enumerate Route 3’s passage as if going through Irvington.

The first Downing Bridge between Richmond County and Tappahannock antedated the Norris Bridge by 30 years, having been constructed in 1927. The current bridge replaced it in 1963, and the remaining concrete abutment on the Essex County side is visible to the north of the new bridge. To the south of the bridge are the surviving pilings of the Tappahannock steamboat wharf, which is under consideration to be re-built. Nearly every piling provides a temporary residence for various waterfowl, who likely will be offended by the loss of their roosts.

When the first Downing Bridge was dedicated, Harry F. Byrd Jr., the son of the governor and himself a future Virginia and U.S. Senator, and Tom Downing, the son of the Congressman and himself a future Congressman, were to cut the ribbon. Harry Byrd used scissors, but Tom Downing pulled an oyster knife out of his pocket to do his part.

Sen. Norris is noted for many accomplishments and statements during his long tenure in public service, but perhaps the comment most familiar to Northern Neckers is not political. A man once said to him, “Senator, I have lived and worked in the Northern Neck for over 40 years. When will people stop calling me a ‘come-here’?” “Not in this life,” he replied.

As I write this item, I am getting ready to head over to Gloucester Courthouse, across the “scary bridge.” The wider six inches are nice, as are the Jersey beams on the sides, but the present bridge always will be known as “scary.”

Rappahannock Record Staff
Rappahannock Record Staff
From the Rappahannock Record news team

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