Thursday, March 18, 2010

A View of the Bridge

Centerville Bridge 28, 2009

The area where I live is bounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the east and the Chesapeake Bay to the north. The region is further crisscrossed with rivers and dotted with inland bays, lakes and ponds. If you like water, this is where you want to be. If you don’t, well, there’s always Arizona.

With this many bodies of water, the region is home to lots of bridges and no fewer than eight double-lane vehicle tunnels under the Elizabeth and James rivers and even the 17-mile-wide mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.

One of the more interesting and older bridges in our region is a very small crossing. The Centerville Turnpike bridge crosses the Intracoastal Waterway, a nearly 3,000 mile long chain of natural inlets, rivers, bays and sounds—known to yachtsmen as the “big ditch”—that enables boaters headed up and down the coast to stay out of the more exposed and unpredictable waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

There’s nothing unpredictable about the narrow stretch of the Intracoastal Waterway crossed by the Centerville Bridge but the bridge itself. It’s old. It’s built of steel. During the summer when the steel heats up and expands, the bridge sometimes gets stuck closed or can’t swing back into the closed position once opened. (There’s a system of hoses and nozzles that spray water on the deck of the bridge on the hottest days to keep expansion down.)

What’s interesting is that the Centerville Bridge is the smaller of just two cantilever bridges left in the region. There used to be more, including one of which was connected to land by a wooden trestle so low to the water and narrow that it barely had room for a guard rail and so rickety that when the bridge section closed the whole trestle shook and you had good reason to think you and your car might get dumped in the drink.

I’d been wanting to take pictures of the Centerville Bridge because it is such an anachronism and because it’s been sitting there minding its own business for almost sixty years without much other trouble than the occasional summer heat problem. I thought I might be able to chat up the bridge tender and get a few shots from inside the tender’s shack, a little closet-sized shed that rides on the outside of the bridge when it swings open and closed.

Centerville Bridge - 30, 2009

I finally went out there one sultry Sunday morning last summer and found that even though the bridge’s span is a short distance, doing a good photographic essay on it is going to call for far more time than I thought.

For one thing, the bridge is located along a narrow two-lane stretch of rural road with deep snake-filled ditches and dense woods and swamp on both sides. The bridge tender has a little parking place at one end of the bridge. There’s little room for additional visitors. A nearby marine has stern signs prohibiting use by non-customers.

One of the first things you realize taking pictures of bridges is that you have to get a good distance away to get a good establishing shot. Most of the waterfront on both sides of the Centerville Bridge is an extension of the aforementioned dense woods and snake-filled swamp. I wasn’t dressed for swamp and snakes, so I had to let the establishing shot go. But I did manage to skinny my car up against the bridge tender’s so that I wouldn’t have to walk a mile in either direction to find a better spot. (Note to self: make friends with marina owner.)

For about an hour I walked back and forth across the bridge taking close-up photographs of the steel frame. There’s a two foot-wide walkway along the deck, enough to be safe if you turned sideways when a car passed at 45 mph, but not wide enough to feel safe. The bridge opened and closed a few times while I was there. I crawled down the embankments at either end to see what there was to see there.

In the end, I wasn’t very happy with what I got out of that visit. Access to the bridge tender’s shed is block by a heavy gate and a lot of barbed wire. (I’ve learned since that I have to get permission from the Dept of Public Works for better access.) But the Centerville Bridge remains on my “to do” list because I’m determined that it should not be my bridge too far.

1 comment:

  1. Neat photos, and I love the map, too. At first, I thought you were going to say that (since 9/11,) they looked at you suspiciously taking close up bridge photos. Sounds like a pretty area where you are!