Bridge Rebirth Takes More Than 9 Months

It is being reassembled,
It is being reassembled, "hand worked just like 180 years ago," said Ron Mallory, the county manager for the project. (Photos By Tracy A. Woodward -- The Washington Post)

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By M.J. McAteer
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, June 28, 2007

One wag dubbed Hibbs Bridge the "baby bridge," because of the nine months that Loudoun County said it would be closed for much-delayed repairs. The nickname wasn't entirely affectionate.

True, the distinctive double-arched bridge over Beaverdam Creek on the Snickersville Turnpike is a well-loved landmark and, because it dates to the early 19th century, a historic one, too.

Its preservation has been a cause celebre in the county for more than a dozen years, and the decision to renovate rather than replace it was a hard-fought victory for those who seek to protect the rural landscape from development.

Nonetheless, its extended closure, which began May 24, has made even some bridge boosters a little grumpy about the inconvenience.

Turnpike travelers heading west toward Bluemont or east toward Aldie now must follow a nine-mile bypass along Mountville, Foxcroft and St. Louis roads. This rural detour is undeniably scenic but adds 12 to 15 minutes to a turnpike trip. And the county recently revised its repair timetable on the span to allow for two more weeks of work. The nickname for Hibbs Bridge has been revised accordingly: "overdue baby bridge."

"In general, I love the bridge," said Madeline Skinner, owner of the Philomont General Store. "It's all about a way of life." But the long closure of the span has Skinner plenty worried about her business. The detour bypasses the village of Philomont, which sits about midway along the turnpike, which means that day workers and tourists who normally stop for refreshments at Skinner's store won't be passing by.

The closure also means "the possibility of delayed response" on some of the 400 to 450 calls received annually by Philomont Volunteer Fire Company 8, according to Glenn Swain, one of four professional firefighters the county has assigned to the Philomont company. To mitigate that problem, fire companies in Aldie and Middleburg will both respond on calls to sites affected by the bridge closure.

Fire Chief Bill Schwartz adds that his department "has done its homework" so disruptions should be minimal.

Weather permitting, his firetrucks will cut off some detour miles by following gravel roads in the area. These winding, narrow roads are not for the faint of heart, however. In particular, Jeb Stuart, which runs between Philomont and St. Louis Road, features quite a shock for the uninitiated -- the "low-water bridge." Despite the name, this is not a bridge but a fording of Beaverdam Creek -- a risky proposition when the area has had some rain.

"I should just close the store for nine months and get a tow truck and sit by the creek," Skinner says.

So why is it going to take such a long time to fix such a short bridge? After all, the stone structure is only 125 feet long and 27 feet wide.

The answer: History cannot be rebuilt in a day.


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