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April 18, 2014

Waterloo Bridge, at 136, suspended in limbo

Only this chimney remains from a Civil War-era woolen mill at Waterloo Landing.
It started as a historical resource issue but also has become a cultural resource issue. I’m very surprised by how much the bridge defines the community.
— Piedmont Environmental Council staff member Julie Bolthouse
Whether motorists again cross the Rappahannock River via the historic Waterloo Bridge probably will come down to one issue: money.

The 136-year-old metal truss bridge closed in mid-January. Built in 1878, the single-lane span provided a popular shortcut on Old Waterloo Road (Route 613). It connected Leeds Manor Road (Route 688) in western Fauquier County to Clevenger’s Corner, where Routes 211 and 229 meet in Culpeper County.

Virginia Department of Transportation officials decided to close the bridge because extreme deterioration made it unsafe for vehicles, even with a posted weight limit of 3 tons.

VDOT has outlined five options for the boards of supervisors in Fauquier and Culpeper:

• Permanently close and eventually remove the bridge at a estimated cost of $250,000.

• Repair and reopen the bridge, with the 3-ton weight limit, for three to five years. Projected cost: $550,000.

• Replace the old bridge with a new, single-lane span that would have a higher weight limit, at a cost of $2.5 million.

• Build a modern, two-lane replacement for an estimated $5.5 million.

• Repair the bridge and reopen it for pedestrians at a cost of $600,000.

Supervisors in both counties have asked VDOT for a sixth choice: a detailed cost analysis for rehabilitating the bridge for the long term, allowing vehicular traffic and raising the weight limit.

“What happens next will be a function of what it costs,” says Fauquier Supervisor Peter Schwartz, who represents Marshall District, home of the Waterloo Bridge. “As much as I’d like to see the bridge restored, at six to seven million (dollars), it’s a non-starter. If we could get the cost down to two to three million, we would have something to talk about.”

Once a bustling village

The area where Carter’s Run joins the Rappahannock is known as Waterloo Landing, the upriver terminus of a 19th-century canal built to haul goods to and from Fredericksburg and Falmouth. The canal operated off and on from 1816 to 1860. (The Old Goal Museum in Warrenton displays a canal barge pulled from the river bottom at Waterloo.)

In a 1936 interview for the Works Progress Administration, Edward Armstrong described the village that emerged as the canal got built.

The settlement had four stores (three in Fauquier and one in Culpeper), two warehouses, a steam-powered sawmill, a shop for making canal boats, blacksmith shops and two woolen mills that made fabric for Confederate — and possibly Union — army uniforms, according to the WPA. Families connected to the canal trade lived in numerous homes in and around Waterloo Landing. Prominent family names included Armstrong, Keith, Settle, Ambler, Knox, Miller, Swartz and Spillman.

The village also played a significant role in the Civil War. Union Gen. James Shields, retreating to Washington after getting defeated by Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley in the spring of 1862, burned the woolen mills as he passed through Waterloo. A chimney from the Swartz mill still stands near the junction of Routes 688 and 613.

On Aug. 22, 1862, Gen. J.E.B. Stuart led his cavalry from Waterloo to Catlett Station in southeastern Fauquier, where he seized Union Gen. John Pope’s full uniform and intercepted orders that gave Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee important intelligence on enemy troop movements.

Wooden bridges spanning the Rappahannock got burned and rebuilt often during the war.

With the canal out of operation, the mills destroyed and businesses and homes ransacked, the village went into decline after the war. In 1875, the Waterloo Landing post office moved across the river from Fauquier to John A. Riley’s store in Culpeper County. Waterloo mail service ended in 1939.

Local lore has it that late at night, with all quiet and still, one can hear the clip-clop of ghost soldiers riding their mounts across the bridge. Keep in mind that the bridge got built 13 years after the Civil War.

Rallying to save the bridge

When the Piedmont Environmental Council in January learned of VDOT’s plan to close the Waterloo bridge, the organization sent an “action alert” to its e-mail recipients in Fauquier and Culpeper counties. About the same time, Kettle Run High School history teacher Richard Deardoff and his students launched a “Save The Waterloo Bridge” page on Facebook.

“It was a no-brainer to try to save it,” says Julie Bolthouse, PEC’s land use officer in Fauquier.

“It started as a historical resource issue but also has become a cultural resource issue,” Ms. Bolthouse says. “I’m very surprised by how much the bridge defines the community.”

As of Thursday afternoon, a PEC online petition calling for complete rehabilitation and strengthening of the bridge had 722 signatures. Kettle Run’s Facebook page had 2,600 “Likes,” and comments ranging from the bridge should be saved to the span has gotten too dilapidated for rescue.

The county’s Architectural Review Board has aligned with the PEC, backing the U.S. Secretary of Interior’s standards that “every reasonable effort shall be made to continue a historic bridge in useful transportation service. Primary consideration shall be given to rehabilitation of the bridge on site.”

Mary Root, who chairs the county ARB, believes the bridge should be saved for its structural design as well as its historic significance.

“The bridge represents American engineering at its best,” says Ms. Root, a Remington resident.

A 2001 report from the Virginia Transportation Research Council, a joint endeavor by VDOT and the University of Virginia, deems the Waterloo Bridge “significant as Virginia’s oldest surviving in-service metal truss bridge.” The report notes the bridge’s eligibility for listing on the National Trust for Historic Places.

Ms. Bolthouse hopes that eligibility may give the bridge some protection from abandonment and possible access to federal grant funds to help pay for rehabilitation.

PEC has worked to raise awareness of the bridge’s uncertain fate and to find funds to help pay for its restoration.

“We hope it will be the people who stop it,” Ms. Bolthouse says of possible permanent closure or replacement of the bridge.

Differing viewpoints

The 2001 report on the bridge, citing faulty decking, rusted beams, crumbling concrete piers and abutments, hinted that a decision on closure would have to be made by 2006. Chronic abuse by overweight vehicles contributed to its decline, according to VDOT.

“It’s difficult to enforce weight limits,” VDOT spokesman Lou Hatter says. “It’s a problem we have across the state.

“We’ve done what we can as far as maintenance goes. We’ve done what we can to extend the life of the bridge,” he says.

The bridge, which carried more than 800 vehicles a day, “was designed and built for horse-drawn vehicles,” Hatter adds.

Randy Allen, whose front porch stands a little more than 100 feet from the bridge on the Culpeper County side of the river, believes the span has outlived its purpose.

“It’s a redundant bridge. We don’t need the bridge,” Mr. Allen says, noting that four-lane Route 211 adequately serves traffic among Fauquier, Culpeper and Rappahannock counties.

Mr. Allen, whose home once served as the Armstrong store and post office, appreciates the bridge’s legacy.

“It’s important historically as a pivotal spot in the Civil War,” he says.

Although he thinks it would be folly to reopen the bridge to vehicles, Mr. Allen says, “It would a shame to see it just sit there and deteriorate. Keep it as a monument to the engineers and industrialization of the late 1800s. Making it part of a bike trail would be nice.”

PEC and the county ARB reject the bike trail concept, citing concerns about liability and future maintenance of the bridge.

Living so close to the span has its drawbacks, Mr. Allen says.

“The amount of trash people throw off the bridge is appalling,” he says, pointing to a matching chair and sofa on the ground below. He also has removed two refrigerators and an upright piano tossed from the bridge.

The area beneath the approach span on the Culpeper side appears to be a popular nighttime party spot. Bottles and cans litter the ground. Vandals have spray-painted graffiti, some of it racial, on the crumbling concrete columns that support the span.

Paul and Phoebe Decker, the closest Fauquier residents to the bridge, also hope it does not reopen.

“The bridge had to be closed because of long-term abuse more than neglect,” says Ms. Decker, noting VDOT crews made routine bridge repairs on a regular basis.

“I’m all for the best use of taxpayer funds, but would (rehabilitation or replacement) be worth the money?” she asks.

Ms. Decker, like Mr. Allen opposes replacing the bridge with a modern, two-lane structure.

“The safest thing for everyone is to take the bridge down,” she says.

The Deckers live on an eight-acre parcel, once part of several hundred acres, on both sides of the Rappahannock, held by the parents of Brian Montgomery, owner of Warrenton Foreign Cars.

“We ran ponies on the land where the Deckers live. Crops were planted on bottom land between Carter’s Run and the Rappahannock,” Mr. Montgomery recalls. “We had cattle on the Culpeper side.”

Mr. Montgomery, who has fond childhood memories of Waterloo Landing, lives off Route 688 and frequently would cross the Waterloo Bridge to visit in-laws near Fauquier Springs.

“I sure would like to see it stay open,” he says of the span.

The waiting game

Mr. Hatter says VDOT remains “in discussions with the counties to determine what they feel is the best path forward” on the open-truss bridge.

Fauquier County Administrator Paul McCulla says the supervisors have not taken a position yet on the fate of the bridge.

Culpeper County Administrator Frank Bossio says his board also remains undecided. Both boards await VDOT’s report on repairing the structural elements of the existing bridge and rehabilitating it for long-term vehicle use.

“VDOT has indicated it is not taking any steps to reopen the bridge. It’s closed,” Mr. McCulla says.

Mr. Bossio, a Fauquier resident who lives on Route 688, used to cross the Waterloo Bridge to and from his job in Culpeper. He says the closure provides a minor inconvenience for him.

“I just like the bridge because of its antiquity,” he says. “We need to take a long, hard look before deciding whether to abandon the bridge.”

Supervisor Schwartz says he gets “a fairly large number” of phone calls, emails and visits from constituents concerned about the bridge’s fate.

“All are from people who want the bridge restored. Most would like it open for vehicular traffic, cars and light trucks,” he says. “No one wants it replaced by a modern, concrete two-lane bridge.”

Any proposal to rehabilitate the bridge would compete for funds in the six-year road plans for Fauquier and Culpeper counties, possibly delaying other projects on the localities’ lists.

“It may be possible to work out a revenue-sharing plan,” says Mr. Schwartz, with the state bearing half the cost and Fauquier and Culpeper splitting the remainder. “We also may need some serious private fundraising.”

“We need to see if we can come up with a viable budget for rehabilitation,” he says. “We have a good bit of time to work this out. I hope we can work it out.”
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Aunt Bessie · April 22, 2014 at 12:08 am
Listen here sonny, I don't like the double wide chair and you better get old rickety fixed soon - i have fond memories of that chair. And I am not that large!
Tell It Like It Is · April 21, 2014 at 8:20 am
I'd say 800+ cars a day is a need. If it were 50-100 perhaps not.
Anton Afterwit · April 21, 2014 at 8:07 am
Let us keep this simple. Is the bridge needed for the orderly flow of traffic for the County citizens or not? If the transportation needs of the County or local area residents can be met by other existing means, then get rid of the bridge. If there are people who want to keep the bridge for nostalgic reasons, then let them pay for the repair and upkeep. Let us do what is best for the majority of the County residents, and not just for the desires of a few.
miketimelyexpress · April 18, 2014 at 12:37 pm
Most folks have memories of areas & things from the past. Looking forward is always the best thing to do. Therefore, rebuild the bridge so future generations can enjoy that 20 second ride.
Tell It Like It Is · April 18, 2014 at 7:37 am
Perhaps the peeps closest to the bridge do not want it reopened because it gives them more seclusion and less traffic around their properties?

Perhaps they could consider relocating as the bridge was there when you got there?

I don't know but for my tax dollar .............. VDOT, Fauquier and Culpeper ...... repair and restore this taxpayer property.

Southcountyguy · April 17, 2014 at 4:10 pm
So it costs more to renovate for people and cyclist riding 20 lb bicycles than two thousand pound cars? VDOT needs a new number cruncher.
Anton Afterwit · April 17, 2014 at 3:38 pm
I have a chair that was built right around the same time. The wood has dried out, some termites got into it (killed them though), but now it is just rickety. Unfortunately, my Aunt Bessie (a rather large woman) kept sitting in it even though I told her it would not support her weight. It is now unsafe for anyone to sit in.

It will cost me $25.00 to take it to the dump and Aunt Bessie can just sit on the double wide chair I bought a while back. I can get it repaired by a local handyman for $55.00 and it might last another 3 to 5 years (even without Aunt Bessie sitting in it, even though I know she will when I am not looking). I can get a new chair for $250.00. Or, I can go buy a new double wide chair for $550.00. If I really want to, the repair man says I can convert it into a potted plant stand and he will only charge me $60.00. But Aunt Bessie really likes the chair because she says it is nostalgic and brings back pleasant memories. What should I do? Other family members like it because it is conveniently located in the room.

Lucky for me my wife came up with the answer. My wife pointed out I already give her $100.00 a year to help maintain her house. If Aunt Bessie wants to keep sitting in the chair, she can pay the costs above the cost of taking it to the dump and she can chose which one she wants to do. So, I will put in $25.00 and then she can have two years to come up with the rest of the money if it is more than she gets from me each year. If she does not come up with the money in two years then I am taking that old rickety chair to the dump. As for the others, it is only a few feet to another chair.
teedawg · April 17, 2014 at 2:00 pm
It is more costly to repair and reopen for pedestrian traffic, than to repair and reopen for "3-5 years" for motor vehicles?
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