Swift Island Bridge - Stanly/Montgomery County

Every bridge has a story.  Some are as simple as, "It carries Highway XX over Random Creek."  Others have more elaborate tales.  There are not many bridges within the state of North Carolina that have a unique history to it like the 1927 Swift Island Bridge over the Pee Dee River in the Southern Piedmont.  The narrow, over 75 year old, two lane bridge over the Pee Dee/Lake Tillery has recently been closed in preparation of its replacement as NC 24/27 will be widened in the area. (1)

The bridge's origins began when a three span open-spandrel concrete arch bridge was built over the river in the early 1920's.  The bridge opened to much fanfare on December 28, 1922. (2)  This crossing would only be in existence for less than four years.   In 1926, Carolina Power and Light began construction of a hydroelectric plant in Norwood.  The dam built in conjunction with the plant would lead to the creation of Lake Tillery.  The new lake would flood the three span bridge, and a new crossing, at a higher elevation, would need to be built.  The State Highway Commission and CP&L came to an agreement that the electric company would pay for the new bridge and the construction would be overseen by the state. (3)

The old bridge's demolition would become to some a comedy of errors and to others valuable information on bridge construction and demolition.  In what would become known as the "Battle of Swift Island Bridge" (4), the US Army would try many different techniques to demolish it.  First, the bridge was overloaded with weight, then the Army Air Force tried to bomb the bridge in test runs, it was fired on by artillery squads. (4)  Finally, the bridge would see its demise after 2,000 lbs. of explosives were placed at the bases of the structure. (3)

The new bridge would open in 1927; the next year the lake was formed.  A more modern parallel span would be built down river and open in the 1970s.  The 1927 bridge would now carry two lanes of westbound traffic over the lake.  Early in 2005, the bridge would be closed temporarily causing the second span to carry traffic in both directions.  Currently, the bridge is open but only to one lane westbound. (5)  The bridge was first approved to be replaced in March of 2003 (6) and construction of the new bridge will begin in 2008 along with projects to widen NC 24/27 to four lanes in Montgomery county. (1)

The two crossings are named the James B. Garrison bridge in honor of former North Carolina State Senator, James B. Garrison. (7)

2016 Update: The bridge is still in use! Though only one lane of traffic cross the bridge.  There is a facebook group - Save the Swift Island Bridge - that wishes to preserve the bridge and possibly convert it to something similar to the Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls, MA.

All photos taken by Chris Curley - February 2005

  • (1) North Carolina Department of Transportation.  April 2005. Transportation Improvement project 2006-2012, Draft, Project B-4874. 8-12.
  • (2) Federal highway Administration. "FHWA Day By Day - December 28." http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/byday/fhbd1228.htm (April 10, 2005)
  • (3) Turner, Walter R.  Paving Tobacco Road: A Century of Progress by the North Carolina Department of Transportation. Raleigh: North Carolina office if Archives and History, 2003. 22.
  • (4) "Power and Recreation - A Great Combination." gonorwood.com. http://www.gonorwood.com/tillery.html (April 10, 2005)
  • (5) Brian LeBlanc
  • (6) North Carolina Department of Transportation. Board of Transportation Minutes, March 6, 2003.
  • (7) City of Albemarle City Council. Minutes September 2, 2003.
  • Bridge Basics @ pghbridges.com ---Bruce Cridlebaugh
  • A Voyage Down the Yadkin-Great Peedee River (1928) ---Douglas L. Rights.
  • GoNorwood.com


    Popular Posts