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Historian knows about last time St. Albans-Nitro bridge opened

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Local historian Cheryl Wintz Withrow may not know who the first person will be to cross the Dick Henderson Memorial Bridge between Nitro and St. Albans when it reopens on Friday.

But she knows who was one of the first to cross the bridge when it was originally built. Dorothy "Dot" Davis, Withrow's great-aunt, crossed the brand new bridge on a bicycle on Nov. 12, 1934, the day the bridge opened. Withrow has the photograph to prove it.

"There wasn't anything she couldn't do," said Withrow. "She was very athletic."

Withrow has spent the last 15 years as president of the Upper Vandalia Historical Society, a group that keeps tabs on Kanawha Valley history. William Davis Wintz, Withrow's father and author of the book "Nitro: The World War I Boom Town," founded the historical society to study the region's history.

When Wintz died earlier this year, Withrow and her sisters -- Julia Kiff, Bille Wood and Bobbie Beddow -- found the photograph of Davis in Wintz's vast collection of artifacts.

"The picture belongs to all of us," Withrow said.

Davis, a longtime employee of Monsanto, was 28 the day she crossed the brand new Nitro-St. Albans Bridge and had her photograph preserved for history.

But Withrow said no one today knows why she crossed the bridge that day. Maybe she was on her way for a round of golf, or maybe she just crossed the bridge on a whim.

"She was a wonderful lady," Withrow recalled. "She could do anything a man could do."

The Nitro-St. Albans Bridge is reopening after a 10-month shutdown to replace the bridge deck. Pedestrians will be allowed to walk across the bridge from 5 to 7 p.m. today, but the bridge will be officially dedicated at 11:30 a.m. Friday.

"It will be a full-blown ceremony," said Brent Walker, spokesman for the state Division of Highways. St. Albans Mayor Dick Callaway and Nitro Mayor Dave Casebolt will speak, and color guards and bands from Nitro and St. Albans high schools will be present.

State highways officials decided to replace the bridge deck on top of the existing piers to save construction time and the amount of time the bridge was closed to traffic. Pier work started in February 2012, and the bridge was closed for the deck replacement in January.

"The bridge was closed to traffic for just under 10 months, which is pretty remarkable when you think about building a bridge," Walker said. The project cost about $24 million.

He said the bridge is actually opening a week or so ahead of schedule. Executives with contractors Kokosing Construction, who did the work on the bridge, took advantage of a $1 million incentive to open the bridge early.

Reach Rusty Marks at rustymarks@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.


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