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Before the New River Gorge Bridge

By Ashley Thomas

Most local West Virginians who are over the age of 40 can remember the days before the New River Gorge Bridge was built. Even though I was a young child, I have lots of memories of making the trek through the Gorge, watching the growth of this grand structure as the building process progressed from each side to meet in the middle.

I lived in Fayetteville, but my great grandparents lived in Edmond. At least one Sunday a month we would go to their house for supper. This would involve a 35-minute trip to get to their house, most of which was navigating the crooked road that everyone used to take through the Gorge. That trip now takes about 9 minutes, aided by the 40-second trip across the New River Gorge Bridge.

Building the New River Gorge Bridge

Through The Gorge

The road through the Gorge is State Route 82, and other than going down Rt. 16 to Rt. 60, it was one of the only ways to get across the 900-foot deep canyon.  For anyone who has driven through the Gorge since the Fayette Station Bridge was rebuilt and the road was reopened, the drive feels different now.  The mostly one-way route that now exists makes for very easy driving.

It is hard for some to picture this route as a two-lane road that once had a lot of traffic. Passenger vehicles, coal and log trucks, and all kinds of tractor trailers once had to navigate this narrow mountain passage. One reason the trip took so long is that driving very quickly was treacherous. Around any curve you might have met a large vehicle that was taking up a lot of the road.

Fun or Fear? Both!

As a young child, I always found that driving through the Gorge closely resembled a carnival ride, one loaded with twists and turns and excitement.  I always tried to ride on the side of the car where I would have the best view of the Gorge. I could see straight down the steep sides of cliffs. More than once I thought about how crazy a tumble to the bottom would be.

The author's family in the Gorge

The road was so narrow in many spots that in order to maximize it’s width, it was necessary to eliminate a guardrail. This always added to the excitement. Nothing like knowing that there is nothing between you and the edge.

Riding on the inside didn't feel much safer. Looking straight up the mountain at rocks and logs precariously balanced above the road, I was always sure one was about to let go and crush the car. You can get that same feeling today, if you really want. Just look up the hill next time you drive through and some of those same rocks are still perched there. 35 years later they still haven't moved (thank goodness).

There's no doubt the Bridge has made travel in this area easier , but when you have time, take a drive through the Gorge on Rt. 82.  Think about how that was once one of the only ways to cross the New River. I take my girls on drives through the Gorge every chance I get. They love it as much as I always have.

Do you remember the Gorge before the Bridge was built?  Tell us about it in the comments!

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