Intros Always Come Last

Today I wrote the draft intro to the footbridges book. Here goes:

The idea came slowly at first, like snowmelt filtering down a mountain stream. I’d been told the swinging footbridges are maintained by North Carolina’s Department of Transportation (DOT). I also learned that Mitchell and Yancey Counties are home to 13 of the state’s 23 remaining footbridges. Nowadays, many of these footbridges lead to a dead end: private property, a cemetery, or an old train depot.

I made a pilgrimage to the Honeycutt Bridge (223W) and it was there, where Bad Creek flows into Rock Creek, that this notion of Lost Crossings came to fruition. Anchored between Highway 226 and a steep hillside, the space begged for interpretation. I could almost hear the stories being told, memories from a way of life nearly forgotten.

Yet it wasn’t enough to imagine these stories. I stood above a confluence of pure mountain waters and understood it would be necessary to trace the story of each footbridge back to its source. Bad Creek had come a long way down the mountain. The families and buildings around these footbridges had come a long way, too.

We began our fieldwork Fall 2008, crossing every footbridge in Mitchell and Yancey Counties. The DOT sent spreadsheets and maps. The Bakersville Library and Historical Society proved helpful. I put together a list of primary sources and started scheduling interviews. We asked around at the post office, the convenience center, the lumberyard, and the local coffee shop. Everyone, it seemed, had a story or two about the swinging footbridges.

We completed our fieldwork by wintertime. Our mountain counties had their coldest November in 50 years, and we worked away at our desks checking facts, organizing photos, and searching archives. DOT records date to the 1960’s but many residents shared stories with us dating back to the late ‘20’s and ‘30’s. We decided to use primary sources as much as possible, but stick to DOT records for construction dates.

At a certain juncture, interest in our project gained momentum. County residents, librarians, friends, tourists, gallery owners, and museum curators alike wanted to know more about Lost Crossings. With encouragement from these parties, we prepared this book and exhibition, developed photos, and organized a legible map of the footbridges.

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