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. Few bridges within North Carolina have a unique history as that of the 1927 Swift Island Bridge over the Pee Dee River in the Southern Piedmont. 

The restored 1927 Swift Island Bridge at left - the 1970s-era bridge on the right.

The Swift Island Bridge's origins date to the construction of a three-span open-spandrel concrete arch bridge built over the river in the early 1920s. The bridge opened to much fanfare on December 28, 1922. (1) This crossing would only exist for less than four years. Carolina Power and Light began constructing a hydroelectric plant in Norwood in 1926. The dam built in conjunction with the plant led to the creation of Lake Tillery. The new lake would flood the three-span bridge, and a new crossing built at a higher elevation was needed. The State Highway Commission and CP&L agreed that the electric company would pay for the new bridge with construction overseen by the state. (2)

The original 1927 Swift Island Bridge in February 2005. (Chris Curley)

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

The 1927 Swift Island Bridge not long after its temporary closure.  The original bridge sat lower than the newer parallel crossing.  As a result of the rehabilitation, both bridges now have the same elevation.  (Chris Curley, February 2005)

The new bridge would open in 1927; the following year, the lake was formed. Nearly 50 years later, a more modern parallel span would be built downriver. As a result, the 1927 bridge carried two lanes of westbound traffic over the lake. Early in 2005, the bridge was temporarily closed, resulting in the second span handling traffic in both directions. 

For over a decade, the future of the historic 1927 bridge was in doubt.  Scheduled for a complete replacement, local communities rallied to save the bridge.  By 2016, the original bridge was still in operation - but only handling one lane of westbound traffic.

A good look at how narrow the old 1927 Swift Island Bridge was.  The rehabilitation project widened the bridge deck by about 16 feet. (Chris Curley - February 2025)

NCDOT would eventually decide to preserve and also modernize the bridge.  The bridge would be deconstructed to the bottom concrete arches and rebuilt upwards.  The completely rehabilitated bridge would retain its original open-spandrel design.  Also, the bridge deck would be widened to handle modern traffic.  The bridge deck would now be just over 39 feet wide compared to the narrow 23 feet prior, allowing two westbound traffic lanes and a shoulder on each side to fit comfortably. (4)

Work on restoring the bridge began in May 2019 and was completed two years later.  The restoration of the 1927 Swift Island Bridge was $14.3 million of an overall $21.2 million project. (4) The completed project received two design awards from the Precast/Processed Concrete Institute in 2023 - Sustainable Design and Best Rehabilitated Bridge.

The two crossings are named the James B. Garrison Bridge in honor of former North Carolina State Senator James B. Garrison. (5)

Sources & Links:

  • (1) Federal Highway Administration. "FHWA Day By Day - December 28." http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/byday/fhbd1228.htm (April 10, 2005)
  • (2) Turner, Walter R.  Paving Tobacco Road: A Century of Progress by the North Carolina Department of Transportation. Raleigh: North Carolina Office of Archives and History, 2003. 22.
  • (3) "Power and Recreation - A Great Combination." gonorwood.com. http://www.gonorwood.com/tillery.html (April 10, 2005)
  • (4) "Engineer gives update on Swift Island Bridge work." The Stanley News & Press.  June 11, 2019
  • (5) City of Albemarle City Council. Minutes September 2, 2003.
  • Brian LeBlanc
  • Chris Curley
  • Swift Island Historic Arch Bridge Rehabilitation and Widening ---PCI.org
  • Bridge Basics @ pghbridges.com ---Bruce Cridlebaugh
  • A Voyage Down the Yadkin-Great Peedee River (1928) ---Douglas L. Rights.
  • GoNorwood.com

  • How To Get There:

    Page Update Log:
    • April 15, 2005 - First Published to Gribblenation.com
    • July 24, 2016 - Page Transferred to Carolina Crossroads
    • February 12, 2024 - Corrected spelling errors and grammar.
    • February 24, 2024 - Updated page to reflect the bridge's preservation and updated photos.


    Popular Posts