Landmark saved: Bridge owner, Staunton partner on ped bridge fix
The Sears Hill bridge will be saved. On Tuesday, July 27, the fate of the historic Staunton footbridge was sealed with the city’s decision to take ownership and restore the 106-year-old structure.
The debate came to a close with owner Richard Macher offering to pay up to $20,000 to temporarily remove the bridge, which currently stands atop the Staunton passenger rail station which he also owns. The City of Staunton agreed to match Macher’s pledge and assume responsibility for the restoration. The city’s $20,000 portion will come from its general fund, which City Manager Steve Owen noted might require a budget amendment.
Although no firm repair cost has been determined, prior estimates suggest the price could climb as high as $250,000, so Owen expressed hope that the community will get involved to close the funding gap.
Until January, after it failed a private engineering inspection and a Staunton building official ordered it closed, the bridge provided a direct connection between the Sears Hill neighborhood and the commercial district of downtown Staunton.
For over a decade, the bridge also added flair to the Pullman, the restaurant and ice cream shop which occupied the former C&O railroad station. Macher has reportedly indicated that he intends to place a Macado's–- his 17-venue restaurant chain (which formerly had an outpost in Charlottesville)–- inside the building.
Built between 1904 and 1909 as part of the rail station, which was built in 1902, the bridge appears to be a contributing structure to the Wharf Area Historic District in the National Register of Historic Places, according to a city report. Besides giving pedestrians over a century of safe crossings over the C&O/CSX train tracks, the bridge has offered an expansive view of the city skyline, and many Stauntonians want the bridge to last for at least another century.
“It’s part of Staunton’s history, our real history, and we need to make sure that the authentic bridge will go back to where it belongs,” said Frank Strassler, Executive Director of the Historic Staunton Foundation.
While there is no specific date for the bridge's return to its current location, Strassler notes that a restoration committee–- including experts in structural steel and steel finishing–- is already coming together. He estimates that the bridge will be removed in three to four weeks.
“We need to ensure that we are protecting our historic resources," says Strassler, "for our community and for visitors to our community.”