In the Shadow of the New River Gorge Bridge: The Tunney Hunsaker Bridge

Have you driven old Route 82 through the New River Gorge?

If you have, then you know what the Fayette Station Bridge (now officially known as the Tunney Hunsaker Bridge) looks like. If not, maybe a trip to see it is in order. What is now a sparsely used one-lane bridge with walkways on both sides used to be a two-lane bridge that handled all the traffic that crossed the Gorge here for almost 90 years.

The bridge there now is close to an exact replica of the one that was originally built in 1889. The lanes were changed to allow foot traffic, and one of the old stone piers underneath was replaced when it was found to not be structurally sound. But beyond that, the bridge itself is very much the same as it was for all those years of use.

Let's take a look at the life of this bridge, living its last 35 years in the shadow of the New River Gorge Bridge.

Just like the Big Bridge

You may find this hard to believe, but the New River Gorge Bridge and the Fayette Station Bridge had common beginnings. Well, sort of. Even though it was over 80 years from the time the Fayette Station Bridge was constructed to the time the New River Gorge Bridge was finished, they were both built by virtually the same bridge company.

The company responsible for building the Fayette Station Bridge was the Wrought Iron Bridge Company of Canton, Ohio. This was one of 24 companies that became the American Bridge Division of US Steel by JP Morgan in 1900.  And it was American Bridge that constructed the New River Gorge Bridge in 1977.

Retired For Just A While

Not long after the New River Gorge Bridge was completed, the old Fayette Station Bridge was closed to all but foot traffic. It was used mainly as an overlook to watch rafts at Fayette Station rapid and as an anchor point for bridge swingers for the next 18 or so years.

In the early 1990’s, the bridge was at a point where its age was really showing and its level of disrepair was approaching dangerous. Parts of the structure were badly rusted and falling apart, and the old wooden deck of the bridge was developing large holes. It had clearly lived a long and hard life.

Tunney Hunsaker Bridge

Something needed to be done, but what? Take the bridge out completely? Build a brand new bridge? The decision was finally made to rehabilitate the bridge.

Rehabilitation is very much like replacement, only whatever is salvaged from the original bridge is used in the new one. This is the reason the rehabbed bridge so closely resembles the original one. Another interesting fact: due to 30+ years of inflation, it cost almost as much to rehabilitate this little bridge as it cost to build the New River Gorge Bridge in the early 1970's.

The bridge was eventually renamed in honor of Tunney Hunsaker, the long time Chief of Police in Fayetteville. Tunney was the youngest Chief of Police in WV when he got the job at age 27. He also had the distinction of being a young Muhammed Ali's (then Cassius Clay) first professional fight. Tunney passed away from Alzheimer's Disease in 2005. He was an icon in the little town that over looked the bridge that now carries his name.

Do you have any memories of the old Fayette Station Bridge? Share them in the comments.