In the 1967 edition of The Wisackyola Historical Festival Review, Penny Niven wrote these words about the Waxhaw Overhead Bridge:
“The bridge tied the hot dusty summer days of the present to the dustier, hotter summer days of the past, just as surely as it connected North and South Main Streets. The bridge was where boys loitered and where children peered with a nervous thrill at trains roaring below the cracks….
From the bridge you could see all over town on that long, liberating trudge home from school. When they narrowed the bridge, it seems as if the world were narrowed and constricting in its process of change. Perhaps the universe that seems so vast in childhood was simply coming into proper focus.”
For residents today, the Overhead Bridge continues to link the memories of the past to the present. Despite remodeling and renovations, the bridge has remained an iconic fixture of Waxhaw life for over one hundred years.
In 1887, President Grover Cleveland signed the Interstate Commerce Act. Railroads crisscrossed the nation, and their monopolistic practices had caused a public outcry. Passage of the Act made the railroads the first industry subject to federal regulation by a regulatory body. That body was the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC), which later expanded to oversee other types of transportation.
Despite the extra oversight, the railroads continued to grow. The B&O Railroad company (now CSX Railroad) built a rail line to Atlanta, and with it came the Overhead Bridge. Constructed in 1888, the bridge served automobile traffic on the main road through town.
Timber Stringer Design
The Overhead Bridge still stands in its original timber stringer design. Since the earliest days of North Carolina settlement, wooden timber stringers had been used, thanks to abundant forest materials. Wooden beams were used to carry the weight of a wooden deck.
These wooden timber stringers originally had a lifespan of about ten years, thanks to the deterioration of untreated wood in North Carolina’s climate. In 1900, creosote was added, which extended the wood life to between twenty-five and thirty years.
By the 1920s, the State Highway Department developed standard plans for timber stringers that ensured uniformity of design and economical use of materials by contractors. The standards also introduced concrete to reinforce decks and railings.
The Overhead Bridge
The Waxhaw Overhead Bridge is one of around 570 timber stringer bridges on the Historic Bridge Inventory that was constructed before 1961. Since then, materials have been modernized, but timber stringer bridges have remained one of the most common types of bridges built on secondary roads.
Because the Waxhaw Overhead Bridge stopped serving automobiles in 1940 and has been designated for pedestrians only, the bridge’s form is able to retain the charm of its original design and materials. In 2007, the town of Waxhaw partnered with CSX to renovate the bridge to maintain both its safety and design.
Today, the bridge sees continuous use. Residents and visitors alike love the vantage point the bridge gives of both downtown as well as of the railroad line itself. Once captured only on fuzzy black and white film, the brown wooden arch now serves as the backdrop for high-resolution digital photos and selfies. Despite the changes in technology, The Overhead Bridge has managed to keep our past planted firmly in our present-day life.