KING, N.C. — For nearly a decade, the historic Seven Island Bridge has been collecting rust in the woods in Danbury, waiting for someone to restore it.
Now the bridge has found a home in a new city.
The Danbury Town Council voted on March 26 to transfer the steel truss bridge – which used to span the Dan River – to Vivian Fulk. She plans to move it to her 36-acre farm in King, which is visible from Goff Road and open to the public when she hosts events.
Local preservation advocates have been working for a few years to pursue other options that would keep the bridge in Danbury, but nothing had been finalized by the council vote.
Mayor Janet Whitt said the bridge is deteriorating rapidly.
“Any of the things they wanted done with it were awesome. … I just feared by the time they could ever do anything it would be crumbled to the ground,” Whitt said.
She broke a council tie to transfer the bridge to Fulk.
The town attorney is drawing up papers now for final council approval. If all goes according to plan, Fulk will have the bridge moved by August, with future plans to place it over a pond and use it as a walking and fishing bridge.
Jane Priddy Charleville helped spearhead efforts to preserve the bridge in Danbury and was sad her committee of local movers and shakers didn’t have more time to work on a plan. She remains positive, though, knowing that the bridge will be preserved.
“It’s going to leave its little community that it’s in, but we still save a little piece of Stokes County history,” Charleville said.
Looking for a home
Built in 1905 and later moved to Danbury, the Seven Island Bridge spanned the Dan River in Stokes County for decades until it was replaced by the N.C. Department of Transportation in 2005 and moved to a nearby clearing under a five-year agreement between the town and the property owner. Efforts to plan the bridge’s future were delayed as other preservation projects arose in the county.
Trees and weeds are growing under the bridge, which sits on blocks and no longer has floorboards. The bridge’s primary section is there and is about 120 feet long, Town Administrator Mike Barsness estimated.
“I just hate to see it sit there rusting away,” said Ann Mabe, who has allowed it to sit on her property but said she can’t afford to do anything with it.
With no money to restore or move the bridge, leaders in the small town of Danbury began discussing the bridge’s future a few years ago. Options ranged from scrapping the bridge to finding a new owner, with the latter option preferable.
“We had exhausted all our resources. The town of Danbury could not take on a project in this magnitude. It is just a very costly thing to do,” Whitt said.
Fulk asked for the bridge a few years ago, but the town gave other groups a chance to submit plans as well. Fulk was patient and said she supported any efforts to preserve it.
Charleville, a local business operator and former mayor, helped set up a committee to explore options, with the favorite being placing the bridge over the Dan River as a pedestrian bridge connecting the town to Moratock Park. That option had been discussed for years as a possibility.
They hoped the bridge could be connected to the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. Kate Dixon, executive director of Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, said it would have taken more time and money to analyze the bridge and see if placing it at the park was feasible.
The town and committee asked the Stokes County Board of Commissioners to consider assuming ownership of the bridge to give the group more time to plan, but the commissioners voted against it in January, citing liability concerns.
“There was just more time needed to pull all of that together,” Charleville said.
Planning for a move
Fulk will be responsible for all costs related to moving and restoring the bridge. Fulk said she plans to give a donation to the town.
“To be able to keep this bridge in our county is just a blessing. …. We’re very fortunate that she is willing to do what it takes to preserve this bridge,” Whitt said.
Phillip E. Harrison, an industrial designer and sculptor who runs a design-build firm in Stokes County, will be responsible for moving the bridge to Fulk’s property.
Harrison said the bridge is a pinned and riveted structure, so it can be disassembled. He has a crane and flatbed truck at his disposal and will transport the bridge piece by piece to King, then clean and reassemble it.
Fulk plans to place it along a wooded ravine in her back yard and eventually put a dam at the mouth of the ravine and fill it with water. A natural spring is nearby.
“It’s just the perfect location for it,” Fulk said.
The process could take three to five years, but eventually the bridge will available for the public to enjoy when Fulk hosts events. She and her husband, Randy, frequently host house concerts there and have a small stage on the property.
The Fulks already have a personal connection to the bridge. Vivian Fulk said she and her husband fell in love in Danbury 32 years ago.
“We just fell in love with that bridge,” Vivian Fulk said, recalling that they used to pass under it on canoe trips.
They had property in Danbury before moving to King. Now Randy Fulk works in Danbury at the Cooperative Extension office, so they are still connected to the town.
Though the bridge will be in a different part of the county, Vivian Fulk likes to think that it is “bridging Stokes County.”