NEW ELTHAM BRIDGE : Connecting past and present

 
The postponement of the ribbon-cutting ceremony doesn't stop residents from
getting a first look.
 
BY MARY MONTAGUE SIKES
SPECIAL TO THE DAILY PRESS
April 19 2007
 
When Robert Slavey was a little boy, his father, John Slavey, would take him up
into the bridge tenders' houses on the Lord Delaware Bridge and the Eltham
Bridge. Together they would work the controls to open the draws that allowed
large boats and barges to pass through.
On April 7, braving temperatures in the low 30s, snow and wind, Slavey was one
of the hardy West Point area residents who took the walk up to the top of the
new Eltham Bridge. He was paying homage to his father, who served as tender for
both bridges for 23 years. Because of Saturday's rare April snowfall, the
planned ribbon-cutting and dedication were postponed until later in the spring.
"It was real funny," Slavey said, remembering. "I would be looking down the
river at the boat, then turn and see down the road."
He recalls another time when his father was off duty, and the bridge would not
close again after it opened. His father got his 40-foot ladder, drove to the
bridge, put the ladder over the span and walked across it to make the necessary
repairs.
He also remembers when a truck hit the bridge house with his father in it and
knocked it sideways. His father's shoulder was broken in the accident, and he
was out of work for a while.
When things were slow on the Lord Delaware Bridge, the elder Slavey would move
to the Eltham Bridge to work. Shifts were 2:30 to 10:30 p.m., 10:30 p.m. to 7:30
a.m. and 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
John Slavey, who for many years spent his off-hours painting around the town of
West Point, did not live to see the new Eltham Bridge open. He died Jan. 31 at
age 90.
Rita Ames was among the scattered groups of sightseers who journeyed to the top
of the bridge. Pleased with the latest of three Eltham bridges, Ames recalled
the first bridge, which was replaced in 1957. She remembers driving the high
school driver education car over the narrow wooden structure, and said she
always dreaded meeting one of the big log trucks coming from the other
direction.
As he walked down from the top, Mark Neale gazed from the Eltham Bridge across
the brick sidewalks that lead to the new Lord Delaware Bridge. He noted that at
first he had supported the construction of a flyover that would have directed
traffic away from town. Now, he says West Point is very fortunate to have had
the opportunity for a face-lift along the 14th Street corridor. He's glad
motorists will get the chance to see the town with its new look.
Not long ago, Jane Massey Redd, superintendent of West Point Public Schools, was
going through some of her mother's things and found an old photograph of a
great-uncle on her father's side and an aunt on her mother's side taken on the
old Gresham Bridge that spanned the Mattaponi River. That picture inspired her
to walk up the Eltham Bridge with her husband, George, to get a photograph taken
of the two of them on the new bridge. She plans to display their photograph
along with the old one of her relatives.
Although the actual ribbon-cutting was postponed, Virginia Vranian found a long
red velvet ribbon left over from Christmas and took it to the bridge. There she
and her great-grandchildren, Henry Harrison Woodly, 5, Virginia Hopper, 6, and
Laura Taylor Hopper, 8, cut their ribbon.
Vranian had been scheduled to do the official honors, just as she did in the
1920s when, as a young girl, she helped open the first bridge across the
Pamunkey River to connect the town of West Point with New Kent County.
The 5K race went on as scheduled, with as many as 70 racers participating.
Bridge T-shirts bearing the date - April 7, 2007 - were given to race
participants and sold to others by volunteers from C&F Bank.
Karen Richardson, Mary Ann Seward, Tameka Pittman, Terry Milby and Laverne
Longest all braved the chilly conditions to sell shirts.
"We work with Katy Lloyd," Richardson explained, referring to King William
County's public information officer. "When she needs something, we get it for
her."
Richardson and several of the others also volunteered at the July 29, 2006,
opening event at the Lord Delaware Bridge. That day was quite a contrast in
weather from the April snowstorm.
Copyright � 2007, Daily Press
 

 

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