The Piedmont Virginian's Blog

Serving and Celebrating America's Historic Heart

What’s Happening with the Old Waterloo Bridge?

Photo courtesy of Preservation Virginia

Photo courtesy of Preservation Virginia

Two years have passed since the Old Waterloo “Ghost” Bridge was closed. Day by day the bridge, a historic monument and beautiful landmark, falls into disrepair. Recent correspondence between the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) and Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) have reignited the discussion around the bridge’s rehabilitation.

A community meeting is scheduled for February 1st, 6:30 p.m., at the Orlean Fire Hall. For more information about the event, visit the PEC’s calendar listing.

Now that talks have begun again, now is the most important time to contact our local politicians, urging them to preserve this emblem of our past. Here is a quick, pre-written letter (courtesy of the PEC) you can send to your representatives.

This historical bridge is too good to be demolished and be replaced by a costly concrete eyesore. Please take a few minutes to read our founder Walter Nicklin’s piece about Piedmont rivers and his childhood memories on the Old Waterloo Bridge.

Rivers Define Us
Letter from Amissville, By Walter Nicklin, Piedmont Virginian, Summer 2014

Library of Congress

Library of Congress

The name “Piedmont” invokes images of the land, specifically the rolling hills forming the beautifully undulating landscape that literally means at the foot (“pied”) of the mountain (“mont”). But the Piedmont is actually defined by water.

Geologically and geographically, the southeastern boundary of Virginia’s northern Piedmont lies precisely at the fall lines of the Potomac, Rappahannock, and James Rivers. Below the falls lies Tidewater Virginia. The Piedmont’s northwestern boundary runs along the Blue Ridge Mountains, from which the headwaters of the Rappahannock and its tributaries spring. (The Potomac and James actually cut through the mountains, so their headwaters are further west.)

Indeed, the Piedmont’s rich history was determined by its rivers. At the fall lines, where ocean-going ships could travel upstream no further, grew Virginia’s major commercial hubs — Alexandria, Fredericksburg, and Richmond. During the Civil War, the so-called “Rappahannock Line” separated Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and the Union’s Army of the Potomac.  The Battle of the Wilderness, for instance — whose 150th anniversary occurred just this May — took place on the terrain of the Rapidan-Rappahannock confluence.

Further upstream, Kelly’s Ford and other river crossings were the pivotal points for flanking maneuvers and resultant skirmishes, sometimes full-scale battles. One such site — Waterloo Landing — is witnessing a skirmish of sorts today. Its old truss bridge has been closed for safety reasons; should it be torn down or rehabilitated? The battle lines are drawn.

Waterloo Landing was the upstream terminus of a 19th Century canal paralleling the Rappahannock and linking Fredericksburg with the upstream Piedmonters. Beginning in 1853, a series of wooden bridges were constructed here. In 1878, the new, durable metal-truss bridge was installed that is still standing today. Considered a significant engineered work, the bridge is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places and is part of the Hedgeman-Rappahannock Rural Historic District nomination that has been submitted to the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.

Although not as historic as the bridge, I’m still ancient enough to confess that some of my fondest boyhood memories, from a time long gone, are entwined with it. It was our favored, seemingly foreign, destination for my friends and I bicycling from Warrenton, less than 10 miles away.  From the bridge span, we would fish and (probably illegally?) use BB guns to target-practice at the rock outcroppings below. Beneath the span, we would swim and launch canoes, as we heard the scary, rumbling sound of an occasional vehicle crossing overhead.

Recently I had an opportunity to relive those memories as I floated beneath the bridge on a canoe trip made possible by heavy spring rains. Normally, the upper Rappahannock is much too shallow to run without constantly getting hung up on the river’s ubiquitous rocks. In its shallow, unmuddied waters, you’re reminded that the Rappahannock is one of the very few East Coast rivers unpolluted (except for agricultural runoff) and running free (with the dam in Fredericksburg now gone).

The Old Waterloo Bridge is much more than an occasion for reverie and nostalgia, however. It contributes to the unique character of the northern Virginia Piedmont. It’s not always the case that human engineering enhances the landscape so. When it does, we should preserve it.


The Old Waterloo Bridge has been designated one of Preservation Virginia’s “Most Endangered Landmarks” in 2014

A local high school teacher has created a Facebook page

The Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) has started a “Save the Bridge” campaign

1 Comment

  1. Appreciate this post. The update.

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