A Bridge Can Change the Face of a City
Fifteen years ago this October, I moved to Charleston, S.C. to begin work for the Robert Bosch Corporation located in North Charleston. Prior to that, I had lived in Knoxville, TN where I’d graduated from U.T. and gotten a job in nearby Loudon, TN. To someone who only visited the beach on vacation, relocating to Charleston was like moving to paradise. Especially when I found an apartment on Sullivan’s Island that was a quick walk to a semi private beach and had a view of the Intra-Coastal Waterway.
At that time, there were two bridges connecting Mount Pleasant, the town just across the Cooper River, to Charleston proper. They were the Grace Memorial Bridge, which only ran South, and the Silas N. Pearlman Bridge, which ran both ways. The Silas N. Pearlman was known as the new bridge then, having been constructed in the 60’s. It was old but sturdy and did its job without complaint. The Grace was another story.
Known as the Cooper River Bridge, the Grace opened in 1929 and offered one lane in each direction. Personally, I don’t know how people in the fifties managed to drive across it in those wide, tail-finned cars with huge chrome bumpers and floating suspensions. Maybe that was why the second bridge sprang up during Johnson’s presidency. By the time I’d arrived in the Holy City, Grace was plain worn out.
Most people, locals or not, did not like driving across Grace. In my twenties, I was still dumb enough not to consider that the old bridge could fall at any moment, leaving me to do nothing but plunge a hundred and fifty feet to the river below. I considered it a sport to navigate the two plus miles of rickety steel and asphalt. My equally worn out Volkswagen GTI rumbled along at fifty-five miles an hour in a posted thirty-five zone. I sawed at the steering wheel, weaving between scared-to-death tourists in their way-too-wide Suburbans and Expeditions like a kid with not much sense. Which was exactly what I was.
Driving over it was one thing. Up until 1996, the Cooper River Bridge Run routed hoards of runners across it. While I wouldn’t arrive in the city for another four years, I can’t imagine the bridge would have been in that much better shape then. That final year on the old bridge, over 14,000 people had signed up. Some of the previous runners joked about the bridge swaying as they pounded across it, twenty eight thousand legs making contact with its surface like mini-jackhammers. Yikes!
Not too long after nine eleven, construction began on a new bridge—what would become known as the Arthur Ravenel, Jr. I can remember cruising up the Cooper in a friend’s boat (always good to have friends with boats!) marveling at the pillars that jutted out of the water. I moved away from the city before it was completed. When I returned later, after it had opened and the old bridges were nothing but memories, I marveled at how, with this single change, Charleston had begun a new era. The Arthur Ravenel, Jr. Bridge is a handsome structure and Charleston stands proud with her.
David Burnsworth became fascinated with the Deep South at a young age. After a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Tennessee and fifteen years in the corporate world, he made the decision to write a novel. Southern Heat is his first mystery and the sequel, Burning Heat, is due out in October. Having lived in Charleston on Sullivan’s Island for five years, the setting was a foregone conclusion. He and his wife call South Carolina home.