On Sunday, July 25, 2010, a small group of Elkinites gathered on the Hugh Chatham bridge at twilight to share memories of the historic bridge's place in the life of their town.
“Ever since they said they were going to tear down the bridge we were hoping they wouldn't do it, but we had to make a gesture before they did that,” said event organizer Anne Gulley.
Gulley, her husband and event co-organizer, Paul and around two dozen other self-proclaimed “Bridge People” met at the former entrance of the bridge on Standard Street at dusk and lined the bridge with luminaries.
Equal parts thoughtful and light-hearted, the ceremony began on the Elkin side of the bridge as the group marched to a point overlooking Main Street. They were led by their own “grand marshal” who carried a boombox playing New Orleans jazz funeral procession music to mark the occasion.
“This is a part of our grieving process,” said Gulley jokingly.
Addressing the group as the sun set behind the bridge, Gulley spoke about how the evening's event proved that the Hugh G. Chatham Bridge was still a symbol of community involvement, interaction and fellowship.
“This shows you the possibility of how this bridge could have been used as a gathering place for the community,” said Gulley to the group. “This is only a glimmer of the possibility.”
This “possibility” will not develop to its full potential. According to Elkin town officials, demolition of the bridge is scheduled to begin on August 9, 2010, and will likely last over a year. Preliminary demolition work is already underway.
Gulley encouraged others to share their own stories of the bridge and how its seemingly constant presence in their lives has affected their community.
Those “Bridge People” who shared stories were few in number but ranged in age from young to old. Most recalled personal stories and memories, while others reminisced and likened the loss of the bridge to losing a person whose presence in one's life is often taken for granted but missed deeply when gone.
The loss of the Hugh Chatham bridge is felt especially deeply by local historian Judy Wolfe. Wolfe, chair of Jonesville's Historical-Bicentennial Society, suggested to the group that the towns of Elkin and Jonesville each take one of the bridge's cornerstones. Wolfe believes that the cornerstones are a symbol of how the bridge has connected the communities of Elkin and Jonesville for more than half a century.
After all had been given an opportunity to share stories, the “funeral procession” moved to the Jonesville side of the candlelit bridge and paused under the famous steel trusses situated over the Yadkin River.
Here Gulley closed the ceremony, reminding the crowd that even though the people of Elkin and Jonesville are losing a physical bridge, residents of each town must continue to reach out to one another. She stated that while people often think of a bridge as a place or an object, 'bridge' is also an active verb that inspires people to unite.
“If you look up 'bridge' in a thesaurus, you'll find the words 'attach,' 'bind,' and 'connect.' Take those verbs and go forth with them,” said Gulley.