South Boston Walking Tour
The Original Covered Bridge Over the Dan River

South Boston has been an important crossing point on Dan River for well over two centuries. On July 4, 1752, only months after Halifax County was created, John Boyd was authorized "to keep a ferry at his house over Dan River."

Boyd's Ferry played a vital role in the growth of the original South Boston, established in 1796, and until its demise about 1811. Boyd's Tavern is the only physical remnant of that settlement remaining today. (Written in 1984, this structure has since been demolished.)

South Boston on the north side of the river was a tiny village at mid-19th century. All writers on its early history have unanimously cited two events which were crucial in its growth.

The first was the completion of the Richmond & Danville Railroad to South Boston in 1854. This opened the area to outside trade as never before, and new settlers began to appear almost immediately.

The other event was the opening of the famed covered bridge in 1858, an even greater boon than the railroad. Travel across the river, previously by ferry only, was now simple, and the village grew rapidly as a trading center.

As early as February, 1852, the county was considering the construction of a free bridge at South Boston. Action was slow, however, and it was not until 1855 that a request was made for plans from bridge builders.

That summer commissioners appointed to select a site for the bridge made their report, deciding on one just below the Boston depot.

County court still did not act on authorizing the bridge, so proponents petitioned the General Assembly to incorporate a company to build one. The Assembly acted on February 22, 1856, creating the South Boston Toll-Bridge Company. Plans were sought soon thereafter.

James Traver, a noted bridge builder then living in Fredericksburg, is said to have seen the ad in a Richmond paper. He came to South Boston, presented his plans and they were accepted.

Most agree that work began on the bridge in late 1856 and was completed sometime in 1858. Built entirely of wood, its great frame was pegged together, with the largest of the pegs being several inches in diameter and more than a foot in length.

It was a rare dual-track structure with the two lanes separated by a fence-like plank divider. There were no walkways for pedestrians, forcing them to walk right along with the wheeled vehicles.

The sides of the bridge were sheathed in boards placed vertically, and an open area, about two feet high, ran its length on both sides at the top to admit light and air. Its roof was of wood shingles.

The bridge rested on a pair of massive stone pillars built by Dennis O'Geary, a local stonemason. Standing in the river itself, with abutments on either bank, the rock was probably cut several miles up the Dan.

It is now known how many men may have worked with Mr. Traver on the bridge. Three who did so were Jerry Walker and Benjamin Kent Sr., local carpenters, and G.W. Wilkinson, who carved all of the pegs used in its construction.

For its first 20 years the bridge was a privately-owned toll crossing. In October, 1877, several hundred citizens petitioned the county to make the bridge free or build a new one. Commissioners studied the request, and in January, 1878, the Board of Supervisors accepted their recommendation that the bridge be purchased.

Its sale price is not known, but the first payment of $3000 was made in February, 1878. The toll bridge was now free.

The advent of the automotive age rendered the covered bridge inadequate and it had to be replaced. On March 17, 1924, it was announced that the state highway department would build a modern concrete bridge as soon as possible. The bridge, fondly called the "humpback" because of its curved profile, was completed on September 18, 1925 and opened to traffic on September 25. Its cost was $60,000. The covered bridge stood for several years after the new one opened. It was rented to a farmer who used it for hay storage, but no repairs were made. The floor was intact, but boards were off the sides, and it was feared one of the children who occasionally sneaked down to play in it might accidentally fall in the river. The decision was made to tear it down, and this was done in 1927 or 1928.

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