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St. Albans community prepares for bridge closure

Chip Ellis
The St. Albans Partnership/Chamber of Commerce and the St. Albans Historical Society held a bridge-closing party Saturday at the city's Roadside Park Saturday. Business owners were there to remind people that they would still be open during the bridge's closure.
Chip Ellis Cathy Graceson and her 22-year-old daughter Erin Gallagher stopped by the bridge-closing event and checked out Shelly Sanders' offering of purses, carrying bags and luggage.
Chip Ellis Dave Hippchen chats with former St. Albans mayor Richard Milam about the history of the bridge.
Chip Ellis The Richard "Dick" Henderson Memorial Bridge, which links St. Albans and Nitro, will close Monday for repairs and is expected to reopen in November.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Though she doesn't like to, Cheryl Thomas crosses the Dick Henderson Memorial Bridge that spans St. Albans and Nitro about once a day.

"I don't like to cross it unless I absolutely have to," Thomas, a St. Albans city council member, said. "You get stopped on it and it shakes."

But with a mother, daughter, son-in-law and grandsons who live on the Nitro side plus a bank in the neighboring community, crossing the 79-year-old bridge is a must, and she does it.

St. Albans residents and community leaders who gathered Saturday morning at the Roadside Park had a similar attitude about the bridge's upcoming months-long closure: they may not like it, but it has to be done.

"I guess it's like going to the dentist," former St. Albans mayor Richard Milam said. "You have to do it but you don't like it."

The bridge will close Monday until later this year while the state Department of Transportation makes renovations, which will include reinforcing its existing piers and replacing the structure that carries traffic across the span.

The new structure will have three lanes, 6-foot-wide shoulders and 5-foot-wide sidewalks.

Among the concerns in the community are that businesses on both sides of the bridge that depend on traffic from the other side will suffer with no quick way between the cities.

Milam said the bridge was closed for repairs during the 1970s. During that time the businesses survived, though they didn't thrive.

Business owners are "apprehensive" about the bridge closure, Milam said.

Saturday's event, sponsored by the St. Albans Partnership and the city's historical society, aimed to remind people that just because the bridge will close doesn't mean the city will, Dale Withrow, president of the Partnership, said.

"We're still open for business," Withrow said. "It's a great time to rediscover St. Albans. We've got everything that you'll need. Just because you can't get across the bridge doesn't mean you can't get down here."

The bridge was built in 1934 and was a toll bridge for 10 years. During that time there was also a ferry across the river that was less expensive than the bridge, Neil Richardson, an officer with the St. Albans Historical Society, said.

The historical society displayed pictures of the bridge throughout the years as well as a program from the bridge's opening. When the new structure opens later this year, the historical society plans to do a new program, he said.

When it was built, it was the only bridge on the Kanawha River from Charleston to Pt. Pleasant, Richardson said.

The bridge is safe, but deteriorating, he said.

"(The bridge) has served its purpose," Richardson said. "It's 79-years-old."

To Thomas, a member of the Partnership, the bridge closure is bittersweet. She's sad to see the historic structure go, but glad that the new bridge will be safer.

When the bridge is closed, there will still be ways to get from St. Albans to Nitro -- a 9.5-mile detour to the Nitro exit of Interstate 64, or a 12-mile detour to the bridge between Dunbar and Spring Hill.

"It's going to take a few extra minutes," Thomas said. "(But) we're going to have something new and exciting and safe, which is the main thing."

Local insurance agent Jamie Moffatt mostly works from his St. Albans home. With clients in Nitro, he crosses the bridge at least once a day, he said.

He's not worried about the closure though, he said.

"I'm just going to take it in stride," Moffatt said. "I look at it (like) it's going to be a betterment. I'm just going to have to leave a few minutes early to go to work."

Angela Kerr, the owner of a candles and gift basket business, said the closure will mean higher gasoline costs for deliveries, but she's not too worried. The local restaurants may suffer though, she said.

A member of the Partnership who helped organize Saturday's event, Kerr said people initially scoffed at the idea of hosting a bridge closure party.

"(They said) 'What are we going to do, have a crying party?'" she said. "I said no, we're going to celebrate the bridge. They'd be crying if that bridge fell, I'll tell you that."

Thomas said St. Alban's many great businesses would keep people visiting the town, despite the inconvenience.

The Partnership will host monthly events during the closure in efforts to draw people to the city as well, she said.

"We just want people to make sure they come on over here," Thomas said.

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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