Buchanan Swinging Bridge
Perhaps the most recognizable architectural structure in the town of Buchanan is the Buchanan Swinging Bridge. Not long ago we read an article about this quaint little town and decided to head there to check the town out and to see if there were any treasures we couldn’t live without in the couple of antique stores in town (there weren’t). The town is a small southern town on the James River. Main Street is dotted with mom and pop shops (there were no chain stores that we saw). The people were friendly and this would be a great place to get away from the rat race.
While the town is small, the town and the bridge are rich in history. The bridge is 366 feet long and just over 57 feet tall and portions of this bridge date back to 1851. Today the Buchanan Swinging Bridge is recognized as a National Register Historic Landmark. The large stone pier rising from the James River was constructed in 1851 as part of the Buchanan Turnpike Company’s Toll Bridge. Back then, the bridge was a covered bridge. The toll to use the bridge was five cents for every person plus an additional five cents for each horse, mule, oxen or wagon. On June 13th 1864 Confederate General McCausland burned the bridge by packing it with oil soaked hay and then lighting it on fire when Union General William Averell’s cavalrymen attempted to cross the bridge on their way to Lynchburg where they would join up with Union General Hunter who was under orders to burn Lynchburg because Lynchburg was a major supply depot for the Confederate Army. The wind carried embers across the river and eleven houses burned. Averell’s men helped extinguish the fire. The bridge survived the fire but was unusable. The next day, General Hunter’s troops crossed the Blue Ridge Mountain (on what is now Route 43) on his way to Lynchburg.
After the war, the bridge was rebuilt but in 1877 the bridge was destroyed by a major flood. The R&A Railroad Company built another bridge during this time and that bridge was toll free. In 1897 this bridge was replaced with a steel bridge that remained in use until 1938. In July 1937, construction of the current concrete James River Bridge was started with an agreement to maintain a pedestrian bridge (today’s Buchanan Swinging Bridge) between the town of Buchanan and Pattonsburg (the town on the opposite side of the James River). Today, the Buchanan Swinging Bridge uses the large stone pier of the original covered bridge that dates back to 1851.
If you are looking for a nice day trip you may want to consider a trip to Buchanan where you can grab a bite to eat at one of the mom and pop restaurants in town. From Lynchburg, take RT 460 west to Bedford’s RT 43 exit. Stay on RT 43 and you will wind up at the Peaks of Otter entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Turn Left onto the Parkway (heading south) and stay on the Parkway for about 5 or 6 miles until you see the exit for RT 43. Take Rt 43 into the town of Buchanan. As you enter the downtown area, the bridge is on the right. Driving time from The Carriage House Inn Bed and Breakfast in Lynchburg is about 90 minutes. And just in case you were wondering, yes, the bridge does swing back and forth as you walk across the bridge.
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