Caswell Branch Bridge and Beaman Road

Beaman Road is an old piece of the long-forgotten Central Highway west of New Bern.  It is a dirt and brick oxbow off NC 55, about seven miles from the Craven County Courthouse.  It is easily overlooked by hundreds of travelers each day.  

If you decide to take this quick detour off Highway 55, you'll go past a few rural ranch homes and some farmland. The road is a mix of brick, asphalt, and dirt.  Then, as you approach Caswell Branch, a sign reads, "One Lane Bridge."  Like others that cross over the many creeks and streams in Eastern North Carolina, the bridge isn't that long.  Yet, it is the oldest surviving bridge of its kind in North Carolina.

The Caswell Branch Bridge dates to 1909 - when Craven County began a program of improving roads and crossings within the county.  It is the oldest surviving reinforced concrete and arch bridge in the state. The single-span bridge is 17 feet wide and about 20 feet in length.  

The bridge was due to be replaced in the early 2000s; however, local efforts helped preserve it.  The New Bern Preservation Foundation (NBPF) received grants from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the NCDOT Enhancement Program to restore the bridge.  In 2007, the NBPF completed the restoration.  They restored the bridge from the ground up and preserved approximately 20 feet of the brick roadway in each direction.

There are a few unique items to the bridge that the preservation project helped to save.  First, the restored brick pavers that read, "Augusta Block."  These bricks came from Augusta, Georgia, and appear to be the preferred paver used in early 20th-century road projects in Eastern North Carolina.  Interestingly, the road was paved with brick about a decade after the Caswell Branch Bridge was finished.

A set of marble stone plaques on the bridge parapet walls is the other discerning feature.  The first lists the county commissioners responsible for the bridge and A. Dallam O'Brien, the county engineer who designed it.  The stone is dated May 10, 1909 - most likely the date it was completed.

The other marble plaque is possibly the oldest 'road sign' in North Carolina.  Although it is difficult to completely read, it reads "7 MILES TO COURT HOUSE - NEW BERN."

I came across this bridge on a drizzly Spring evening.  The rain was just right - just enough that you want to walk around in it.  It made the bricks glisten, almost to say moments like these are why it was preserved.

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