The Danbury Town Council is looking to transfer ownership of the historic Seven Island Bridge to a group or individual with the hope that it will be kept in the county.
The council asked for public comment about the bridge at its Wednesday, Jan. 23 meeting. Following closed session, the council instructed Town Administrator Mike Barsness to prepare a request for proposals.
The town will accept written proposals to transfer bridge ownership and responsibility from the town to a government agency, non-profit group or private interest. According to the town website, proposals that would keep the bridge in Stokes County will receive first priority, and proposals must preserve, restore or re-use the structure.
An update posted on the town website following the Wednesday meeting said, “Many helpful comments were received and will be considered in any final decision. While the Mayor and Council are sensitive to the desire to preserve and restore the bridge, they are also cognizant of their responsibility to carefully shepherd the town’s scarce resources.
“It is clear that the town lacks the financial and operational capacity to lead a restoration and relocation effort. The reasonable alternative may be to ensure that the bridge is transferred to someone who can.”
No minimum price is noted on the proposal request, but the town has incurred some administrative costs. An informal appraisal was done on the 120-foot bridge, which has a steel value of about $2,700. The town’s main objective is to see it preserved.
The town took possession of the old bridge about seven years ago, according to Barsness, after it was replaced by NCDOT. The town had a written agreement with a local property owner to keep the bridge on private property for five years. The town is now a few years past that deadline and no proposal has been agreed on.
Former mayor Jane Priddy Charleville gave the council a little background on the bridge, which she said is a piece of history that means a lot to the people of the county. Charleville said the town “dreamed big” when it took over the bridge, envisioning a pedestrian walkway over the Dan River to connect Moratock Park with historic Danbury. But there was also an effort under way at that time to preserve Sheppard’s Mill, so the town did not compete with it.
Though time has passed, Charleville said, “I never want to see a piece of history leave our county.” She mentioned the recent loss of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, which was dismantled and removed from Germanton.
Charleville said she talked with the owner of the property where the bridge now sits, and she said the owner may be willing to extend the contract for two years while the town or groups worked to determine the future home of the bridge. She suggested the town set up a committee to look at options for the bridge.
“The vision is there,” said Charleville.
Another suggestion was to take parts of the bridge and set it up in Moratock Park, like the Iron Furnace, with pictures and a display commemorating the bridge. At one time it had also been suggested that parts of the bridge be incorporated into an amphitheater in town.
After Charleville’s remarks, Becky Boles spoke about the bridge. She worked years ago to get people to save the bridge. She provided the council with a binder full of petitions and letters she gathered then from people across the state advocating for the bridge to be saved.
“The history that bridge has seen is unbelievable,” said Boles.
She said any suggestion that the bridge could be destroyed is “unbelievable.” “You’re not talking about a piece of metal,” she remarked. “You’re talking about something that’s embedded in the hearts of the people of Stokes County.”
Mayor Janet Whitt asked Boles if she would object to a private owner taking over the bridge. Boles said she would not object if the public could still see the bridge. Whitt later noted that a landowner in King was interested in purchasing the bridge, though there could be public access to it.
Steve Shelton also spoke during the public comment period. He said that in his short term as town administrator several years ago he told the council it should not have anything to do with the bridge. It was not that he did not want to see the bridge saved, but that he did not think the town had the resources. He said he would like to see one more effort to save the bridge, and maybe a committee would be a good idea.
“I see you guys more as facilitators than anything else,” Shelton said to the council.
Further discussion by council members and meeting attendees revealed many challenges to trying to use it as a pedestrian bridge over the Dan.
Patti Dunlap of the Stokes County Historical Society spoke and said her group frequently gets calls about preserving items, but grant money has dried up and the society has a minimal budget.
“We just don’t have funds to contribute to that,” said Dunlap.
Barsness recommended that the council transfer ownership of the bridge. He noted that the town doesn’t have “deep pockets,” but in a larger organization’s hands there might be leverage to preserve the bridge. Barsness said he did not think anyone wants to see it destroyed, but that it did need to come out of the town’s hands.
Mayor Whitt said, “We all do care about the bridge … I played on that bridge growing up.”
Now the town is accepting proposals for the bridge. Written proposals which briefly explain a plan for the bridge will be accepted until 5 p.m. Feb. 26 at town hall or by mail to P.O. Box 4, Danbury, NC 27016.
For more information, visit www.townofdanbury.org or call the town at 336-593-2002.