Working on the bridge "was a big deal, the greatest project in the United States at the time," Chandler told Riebe, according to an article prepared for a State Historic Preservation Office newsletter.
"He talked about taking a dip in the New River in the hot summers and how their lunches froze in the winter," Riebe said. "He also recalled the day the cable towers collapsed and described an accident when one worker died and several others were injured."
When asked whether the height of his work site bothered him, he replied, "Not really. The steel was 3-feet wide."
"The part about being listed on the National Register that excites me the most is that it honors the men who worked on the bridge," Riebe said. "I don't think they've been fully appreciated."
When the bridge was completed in 1977, it was the world's longest steel arch bridge -- a title it held until 2003, when the Lupu Bridge over the Huangpu River in Shanghai, China, opened for traffic. The New River Gorge Bridge remains America's longest steel arch bridge and the third-highest span in the nation.
Completion of the bridge and Appalachian Corridor L/U.S. 19 created a four-lane link between Interstate 79 near Sutton and Interstate 77 at Beckley, giving north/south through drivers a 45-mile-long shortcut in passing through West Virginia. The shortcut makes possible the fastest driving route between Toronto and Miami.
For drivers in the Fayetteville area, completion of the bridge reduced the 45-minute drive required to cross the Gorge by narrow country road and the Fayette Station Bridge to a drive of less than one minute over the new span. Though Corridor L/U.S. 19 was not complete when the bridge opened, traffic along the route increased 140 percent shortly after the bridge opened, and an area trucking company reported saving $3,000 a day in fuel and wages by creating the shortcut.
Fayetteville's population increased 38 percent between 1970 and 1980, while Raleigh County's population rose 24 percent during the same period, due at least in part to the new bridge's presence.
The bridge continues to receive praise from the construction and design communities. In 2006, the trade magazine Roads & Bridges
listed the New River Gorge Bridge as one of ten "Top All-Time Bridges," along with the Golden Gate Bridge and the Brooklyn Bridge. Last year, Architectural Digest
included the Fayette County span on its list of "Ten Remarkable U.S. Bridges" for combining monumental design, feats of engineering and the natural beauty of the landscape.
The bridge was chosen to represent West Virginia on the 2005 state quarter, and on a 2011 U.S. Postal Service stamp.
Each year, at least 80,000 people, including 400 BASE jumpers, converge on the span to celebrate Bridge Day, a tribute to the New River Gorge Bridge's significance to the state.
"Really, it's the one historic resource that represents West Virginia today," said Riebe. "I'm excited to see it getting the recognition it deserves."Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelham...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.