Contributed by the Re-light the BridgeCommittee
The Columbia nighttime skyline is officially returning to its historic glory Monday, April 3, 2006.
Midlands residents have waited years for the golden lights on the 78-year-old historic Gervais Street bridge to illuminate the night sky. To celebrate, residents are invited to a free ceremony and fireworks display to be held at 7 pm at the Gervais Street Amphitheater and Riverwalk.
Delays to the five-year-old repair project were unexpected. As the repairs were underway, workers discovered that the brass lighting fixtures contained the original wiring.
The repair process was a series of trial and error. The main concern was removing and repairing the original wiring. Workers discovered the conduit and the wires rusted together making them impossible to remove.
Duncan, a life-long West Columbia resident and chairman of the Re-light the Bridge Committee, states the original bridge lights were compared to Christmas tree lights. "When one light went out," he said, "they all went out."
"I received numerous complaints from citizens who wanted the bridge lights on and restored to their former glory," State Senator Jake Knotts said. "Because of the obvious historical significance, several groups were involved to preserve as much of the original look of the bridge as possible."
Historically, the site has served flat boat ferries and bridges.
"Friday's Ferry Service, named after a German settler Martin Fridig who changed his last name to Friday, provided free passage to ministers, Indians and public servants. Colonial rules required two men to attend to the ferry at all times. Other passengers had to pay a fee of one shilling and three pence (about 75 cents in 2000 U.S. dollars). In 1791, the ferry was replaced by a toll bridge. A subsequent wooden bridge was completed about 1827.
"Civil War buffs will be interested to know," Knotts said "that particular wooden bridge was burned in February 1865 by Confederate soldiers to delay Sherman's Union army."
During that time, the Gervais Street bridge was also the original site of Thomas's Battery which overlooked the Congaree River Bridge.
"It is also believed that Sherman's Union soldiers first caught a glimpse of Columbia from this site and fired upon the capital city," Knotts said.
In 1870, a steel bridge with wooden flooring was built which used most of the remaining piers. It was privately owned until 1912 and purchased by Richland and Lexington Counties. That bridge was dismantled when the current bridge was built.
Spectators may view the free ceremony from the Gervais Street Amphitheater and West Columbia Riverwalk located next to the New Orleans Restaurant.
The ceremony will conclude with a large fireworks display which will be discharged from the center of the bridge. Motorists will be rerouted from 6-9 pm.