May 4, 2009
Considering the historical background of the Columbia-Wrightsville bridge, officially the Veterans Memorial Bridge, it is no surprise that it has been chosen to receive stimulus money. Although the bridge is beautiful in its current state, the hope is that it can be restored to its original beauty with a little TLC and fresh ideas. The plans include restoring the street lights with reproductions of the original art deco lights, renovating the travel plazas at both ends of the bridge and under-lighting the reinforced concrete arches. The renovations are intended to attract tourists and create new jobs for local residents.
An article published by The Intelligencer Journal notes that developers hope to have more details by the end of summer regarding the amount of stimulus dollars and the date the monies will be available. Renovations are anticipated to take between six to nine months to complete once funds are available.
This news was of particular interest to us as our Lancaster office is located only a few miles east of this historic Lancaster County landmark. Also, you may have noticed The Lancaster Law Blog features a picture of this bridge in the mast head. We are excited about the prospect of the bridge renovation and decided to take a moment to briefly recount the important role the Columbia-Wrightsville bridge played in Lancaster County and Pennsylvania history.
Here is an excerpt from www.civilwaralbum.com
"... 2500 Confederate troops under the command of General John B Gordon were moving to the south in York County, advancing on the small town of Wrightsville to capture the wooden bridge across the Susquehanna River there. This bridge was the only way over the river for 25 miles to the north or south of Wrightsville. Opposing Gordon’s battle-tested troops were about 250 local militia and volunteers in trenches around the western end of the bridge. The Federal troops were ordered to prevent the Southerners from gaining the bridge and were prepared to destroy it with explosives to prevent its capture. The Confederates quickly moved in and easily overwhelmed the defenders who fled across the bridge to the town of Columbia, Lancaster County. And when the explosives failed to detonate, the Union troops set fire to the bridge. It was a windy night and several embers from the burning bridge blew back into the town of Wrightsville, causing fires in the town itself which destroyed some homes and a lumber yard. The invading Rebels, halted by the loss of the bridge, helped the townspeople fight the fire by forming bucket brigades and working shoulder-to-shoulder with the ‘conquered’ citizens. The Confederates then left Wrightsville and headed west to rejoin Lee’s army outside Gettysburg. The stone piers which supported the Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge can still be seen standing in the river today from the Route 462 bridge."
In the book Flames Across the Susquehanna, Glenn Banner describes the importance of the bridge during this time,
"Students of Civil War history have long known of the significance of events which took place a century and a half ago in and around the Susquehanna towns of Wrightsville and Columbia, Pennsylvania. Historians have, from time to time, written just briefly of the Underground Railroad in Columbia and the patriotic actions of the local citizenry when the Confederates arrived on the west shore of that bridge in June of 1863. There are some historians of the era who were convinced that had the bridge not been burned, it is extremely likely that the battle of Gettysburg would never have been fought, and that the South, therefore, could have eventually swept to victory".