Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Virginia Bridge

Text Box: c. 1920The Gawler River forms a natural boarder to the City of Playford. Following colonial settlement there was a need to cross these natural water courses. In summer it was a dry channel, but when it flooded and in the rainy season it was no unusual thing to see the river overflow.

It was important to construct a suitable bridge that would allow farmers to cross with their produce and regular travellers.  There appeared to be a structure in place before 1869, but was in poor condition.  In 1865 a farmer crossing on his horse fell through the planking. The horse was fine and had to be lifted out with ropes.

The Virginia Bridge is built over the Gawler River, in the line of the north-west branch of the North road, at a spot known as ' Fisher's Crossing,' about two miles north of Virginia township, hence the name.  The river it this spot is exactly 100 feet wide, the banks flat or rather falling from the river. 
The Central Road Board designed a bridge with three huge laminated arches looking like water wheels.    Mr Macaulay recommended a bowstring bridge, with two roadways, supported at each end on piles. The Board having approved or the design, tenders were invited, and Mr. Pitman obtained the contract.

Six piles are driven in double rows at each end of the bridge, giving a clear waterway or 100 feet. Upon the heads of each row of piles a timber cap is placed. Upon these caps rests the bridge itself; and perhaps there is no bridge in the colony in which so little material has been used in the framework or skeleton as in this.
The trusses, three in number, are composed of an arc or bow, having a versed sine of 10 feet, fitted at each end into iron sockets, which are bolted down to a stringer or the beam.  At intervals of seven feet, uprights are placed, tenured at the one end into the stringer, and at the other into the arc. Wrought-iron tie-rods pass through these uprights, and are screwed up on the under side of the stringer.  A strong handrail is introduced between the uprights which acts in a double capacity, namely, as a protection to the traffic, and also greatly increasing the stiffness of the truss.

Each are is built of three-inch planks 11 inches in width. The middle rib is composed of eight layers ; the two outside ones of seven ; thus giving a total sectional area of five superficial feet (that of the Gumeracha Bridge is nine feet). The platform of the bridge consists of a double layer of three-inch planks laid diagonally and crossing each other at right angles.
The Bridge was officially opened by Mr. Thompson, Secretary of the Central Board of Main February 1858. Mr. Thompson arrived, with the contractor, Mr. Jacob Pitman, and Mrs. Pitman, in one of Mr. Rounsevell's carriages and four.  They were met on the ground by the Superintending Surveyor, Mr. Macaulay, and the Clerk of the Works, Mr. Samuel Wastell.  After testing the bridge with various loads of corn.  The Secretary, in the name of the Board, then christened the Bridge the ' Virginia Bridge.'   Three cheers were given for the Queen ; three more for the contractor; and three more for the Superintending Surveyor.

It wasn’t long before it began to show signs of weakness.  In a short time £2800 was spend on repairs.
By 1863, complaints were written in the newspaper about the state of the bridge.  £99 had been spent repairing the bridge that year.  A petition signed by users of the road had been sent into the Central Road Board requesting repair.

A new bridge was opened in 1869 to replace the rickety, tumble down structure previously in use.    At 12 noon a large party gathered, inspecting and commenting on its appearance.
The total span between the masonry abutments is 122 feet, but two wets of piers have been erected on each side of the water way. The piers are 8-inch cylinder, and the work of Messrs. Martin and Co., and support cast iron transvers girders turned out by Mellor Bros., of Adelaide. The bridge has taken nearly 12 months to construct.

The guests almost 300 were present to witness the opening ceremony.  The honour of christening the bridge was assigned to Miss Elizabeth Ridgway, who is the oldest native born lady in the neighbourhood.
Miss Ridgway made her way to the centre of the bridge, and, taking a bottle of wine in her hand, said — ' In the name of the great Architect of the universe, to whom be the praise and glory, I name this bridge the Virginia Bridge, and declare it to be open for public traffic.'  She then broke the bottle on the bridge, and three hearty, cheers were raised for Her Majesty the Queen. Mr. Bright, M.P., then advanced and formally declared the bridge open, after which cheers for Miss Ridgway and Miss Morris were given.

An adjournment was then at once made for lunch.
About 50 gentlemen sat down to a cold collation placed upon the table in excellent style by Host Mallyon of the Wheatsheaf Inn, Virginia.

Numerous toasts were given before the guests left at 4 o'clock, the Adelaide gentleman departed for town amid cheers. The festivities were, however, kept up by a ball in Mallyon's big room. Altogether a pleasant day was passed.
In 1923, the Automobile Association of SA declared the bridge unsafe for vehicles over one ton.

The banks fo the river near the bridge was a popular picnic place. Mr Ridgway who owned property near the bridge was often asked by groups to use his land.

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