If covered bridges are a gateway to the past, Woolwine area residents are working to make sure that past is kept alive for future generations.
Saturday’s Virginia Covered Bridge Festival celebrated the heritage of covered bridges in the state, only seven of which remain in operation. Two of them, the Bob White Covered Bridge and the Jack’s Creek Covered Bridge, are within 1.5 miles of one another on Jack’s Creek Road, near Route 8 in Woolwine.
The festival celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Jack’s Creek bridge.
“It’s a rarity these days,” said Regena Handy, a member of the festival board and former Patrick County administrator. “We have two of the seven that are left out of the hundreds that were in use.”
Though neither bridge has been open to vehicle traffic or maintained by the state since 1981, they attract plenty of visitors on foot, Handy said. The bridges have an emotional connection to the past, which makes them popular, she added.
“There probably isn’t anybody in this area that doesn’t have a special memory related to those bridges,” she said. “We want to take our families and grandchildren to see them so we don’t have to look them up in a book one day.”
The Jack’s Creek Covered Bridge was designed by Walter G. Weaver of Woolwine and built in 1914 by Charles Vaughan of Buffalo Ridge, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation’s (VDOT) covered bridge history site. The 48-foot structure was intended to serve Jack’s Creek Primitive Baptist Church, which still is in operation.
A steel-beam bridge over the Smith River replaced the covered bridge in 1932, but the covered bridge continued to be maintained by the Virginia Department of Highways. It was widened and received a new roof in 1969 and underwent a full, $4,550 restoration in 1974, according to the Patrick County Historical Society.
The bridge was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on May 22, 1973, according to the VDOT website.
After the bridge was replaced, the Woolwine Ruritan Club and then the Patrick County Board of Supervisors took over its care. The county continues to maintain it, Handy said.
It was restored again about five years ago with grant funds from the Federal Highway Administration’s national historic covered bridge program and the state’s Department of Historic Resources. Grant funds were matched by the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission, Handy added.
The Jack’s Creek Bridge is smaller than the Bob White Bridge, which was built in 1921 and is 80 feet long, according to VDOT. It was maintained by the state until 1981.
Now in its 10th year, the festival included music, horse and mule wagon rides, and a 5K race through each bridge, Handy said. Other historic events marked the centennial of the Jack’s Creek bridge.
“Being the 100th year, we have a special program going on,” she said. It includes historical displays, such as presentations by churches that were in the immediate area of the bridges when they were built.
Historic items from that time period were to be on display Saturday, and the Sons of Confederate Veterans were scheduled to present a service reminiscent of one for Civil War dead, Handy said.
The covered bridge festival was founded by the Patrick County Department of Tourism, but the county handed off operation of the festival to local residents and members of the Woolwine Ruritan Club before it disbanded. Since then, what Handy calls “a group of determined citizens” raises funds and operates the festival, she said.
“It’s a small group of us,” she said. “Volunteering is hard to do these days because everyone is so busy.”
The Woolwine Volunteer Fire Department and Smith River Rescue Squad also help sponsor the festival, Handy said.
The Bob White bridge will need restoration in the coming years as well, Handy said. The group is planning fundraisers to match a grant available from VDOT, she added.