Wed/Jul/2011 02:29 PM
Feb. 19, 2011
By Perla Travizo | Staff Writer
Chattanooga Times Free Press
For those who didn't get to participate in the original Walnut Street Bridge fundraising project almost a decade ago, a second chance has come along.
The Parks Foundation kicked off the second campaign Friday morning at the south end of the 120-year-old bridge with a plan to replace the bridge's 1,776 engraved brass plaques with zinc plaques.
Under an overcast sky, former and present mayors shared their stories of the Walnut Street Bridge, discussing how engineers recommended its closing and demolition and the community spirit that saved it and made it into what it is today.
"It's a beauty, I think," said former city Mayor Gene Roberts. "We almost lost it two or three times."
Roberts was among half a dozen community leaders who received a roughly one-pound honorary plaque.
Selling dedicated plaques was part of a grass-roots effort in the early 1990s to restore the bridge, said Rusty Criminger, who worked with the group that helped save the bridge.
"Rather than just asking for donations, we decided we could do something tangible," he said.
In addition to raising money, he said, part of the group's goal was to get people out on the bridge.
"I will never forget the first time I took my wife and son out, we walked along until we found our plaques out there," he said. "For a year or more it was a real item, people going out on the bridge, finding their plaques ... it was a real popular feature."
But over the years, about one-third of the plaques were stolen or vandalized. It began with the souvenir plaques, such as the one for local broadcasting icon Luther Masingill, who was among the first people to purchase one, said Garnet Chapin, president of the Parks Foundation.
But the brass plaques soon were being stolen and taken to scrapyards for money.
"When they realized there was money in them, they began to take them wholesale in which time the city had to put a stop to it and take them all out about eight years ago," Chapin said.
About 400 plaques have been replaced with the zinc ones, he said. The original campaign in the 1990s sold 1,776 brass plaques, and the goal for the new campaign is to sell the same number of zinc plaques by the spring.
Wed/Jul/2011 02:28 PM
Feb. 18, 2011
By Cliff Hightower | Staff Writer
Chattanooga Times Free Press
The Walnut Street Bridge, once the longest pedestrian bridge in the world, turns 120 years old today.
The bridge, which was slated for demolition in the 1980s, is now a premier linear park and serves as a daily respite for walkers, joggers and bicyclists. Several of those who helped save the bridge from destruction now say it has done more for Chattanooga than they ever dreamed it might.
"What we thought would happen has happened to a greater degree than we ever imagined," said Garnet Chapin, a local architect who led the movement in the 1980s to save the bridge.
Rusty Criminger, who worked with the original community group that helped save the bridge, said it acts as a connector, not just between the north and south shores of the Tennessee River, but for the community as a whole.
"The bridge is there as an enduring symbol," he said. "It connects communities."
The newly formed Parks Foundation, charged with raising money for the city's Parks and Recreation Department, will kick off its first campaign with a dedication ceremony at 11 a.m. today on the south end of the bridge. Chapin and Criminger are both foundation board members.
Criminger said the group will seek donations for more plaques to be placed on the bridge. The old brass plaques naming original donors to the bridge's renovation were stolen numerous times because of their scrap value.
The new plaques will be made of zinc, Criminger said.
"There's no real salvage value in an eighth of an inch of zinc," he said.
The new plaques will cost $100 and also will have donors' names on them. The goal is to match the 1,776 plaques sold in the first campaign, he said.
The money will be used to pay for replacements for the original plaques. Any money left over will be used for maintenance, he said.
The bridge was built in 1891 and motor traffic used it until 1978. It sat unused for 15 years as Chattanooga and state officials tried to figure out whether to scrap or save it.
Finally the community group raised $5 million to refurbish the structure as a walking bridge. The bridge reopened on May 1, 1993, and people have been walking across it ever since.
Tom Rudd, a Chattanooga resident since 1978, sat on the bridge Thursday, enjoying the sunshine.
"It would have been a waste to tear it down," he said.
David Smotherman, owner of Winder Binder Art Gallery and Book Store and also president of the North Shore Merchants' Collective, said there's no doubt the bridge changed the city.
It opened the North Shore for shops, restaurants and, later, modern housing. Coolidge Park opened. Homes started being revitalized in North Chattanooga.
Smotherman opened a shop a block from the bridge a year after it reopened. He later relocated to be right next to the bridge because he believes in it, he said.
"It's just such a jewel for this whole city," he said.