MAURY COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) — Countless vehicles, feet and even horse and buggies have crossed over a five arch bridge in Sandy Hook, Tennessee. The bridge has an unclear future but a very rich past.
“This particular bridge has a historic perspective in the state of Tennessee,” said Calvin Sneed.
As an avid “bridge hunter,” as Sneed calls himself, he hopes to save the bridge. He said it’s the only one like it left in the state, and one of five in the country.
“When you take this bridge down, you’re actually taking down part of your history,” Sneed continued.
Built in the early 1900s by prolific bridge builder, W.B. King, Sneed said the five span closed spandrel concrete arch bridge played an intricate role during World War I, as equipment needed for the troops was transported from a nearby steel plant.
The Sandy Hook bridge was once a portion of the original Highway 43 that crosses Big Bigby Creek, said Sneed. “It was the only way to get from Columbia to Lawrenceburg, and back and forth.”
Sneed explained the bridge has been a necessity for the community for more than 100 years. “All the industry, everybody going to work in the morning, to school, to church, to graduations, I mean, just just all kinds of things that this bridge has witnessed.”
Last year, Sneed joined the Sandy Hook 5 Arch Bridge Foundation, which was created by locals hoping to save the bridge.
Kevin Davis has been working to save the bridge for much longer, as he only lives about 200 yards below it.
“Everything that goes on with the bridge, I’m right here, smack dab in the heart of the Sandy Hook community. Anything that goes on with the bridge affects me greatly,” said Davis.
The very real prospect of the bridge being demolished has been circulating since the great flood of 2010.
“After the bad 2010 floods that we had back then – that affected all of the Middle Tennessee – I mean, they wanted to blame the bridge on it. But I mean good grief, the area received so much rain everywhere. If you’re just in a low lying area, it’s gonna flood,” he said.
The group’s grassroots effort to save the bridge has grown to reach a conservation group out of Nashville called TennGreen Land Conservancy.
“We’re exploring what conservation strategies we can use to aid the effort. If the county is interested in managing a park next to the bridge, we’re happy to discuss acquisition possibilities with them,” said Kim Woodward, communications coordinator for TennGreen.
The idea would be for the bridge to become part of a new greenway and public park that would provide a connection to a nearby waterfall.
“Picnic benches, picnic tables, with the bridge as a focal point, you know, in a park kind of area along the greenway would be perfect,” said Sneed, painting a picture of what it could look like.
However, that dream is in the very early stages, emphasized Woodward.
“If we can establish a county park adjacent to the bridge and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation is supportive of a connection to Stillhouse Hollow Falls, we’d love to work with the community and residents to evaluate if that is feasible as well,” Woodward added.
There has been no discussions of public land acquisition with the county, state or landowners yet, said Woodward.
The fruits of the foundation’s labor have also produced worldwide recognition for winning awards from The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles.
“I was blown away of how well we did,” said Davis, “It went against bridges in Canada, Germany, Great Britain, Poland, Ukraine, we’re talking about an international bridge contest.”
The Sandy Hook bridge won first place in three categories including Best Kept Secret, Best Bridge Photo, and Author’s Choice Award. Additionally, it placed second for Most Endangered T.R.U.S.S. Bridges.
The bridge has been under a blockade for more than a year, by the Maury County Highway Department.
The bridge has been deemed “in poor condition” by the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT), which last inspected the bridge in 2020.
“We inspect all bridges every 24 months; it was listed as being in poor condition. It had a 5-ton weight limit,” said TDOT spokesperson, Rebekah Hammonds, adding school buses or emergency vehicles cannot pass over it.
Hammonds said an inspector returned to the bridge in June of 2022 and noted the blockade was already in place.
News 2 reached out to the Maury County Highway Department, but we were told they had no comment due to a pending lawsuit.
According to the court documents obtained by News 2, the complaint by the Sandy Hook 5 Arch Foundation alleges Maury County Highway Department and superintendent Van Boshers did not follow the proper procedure when closing off the bridge. There has been no hearing date set at this time.
Hammonds said the county requested the bridge to be demolished in 2010 after a council vote.
“The project was then identified in the Improve Act in 2017. And the county closed the bridge because of flooding issues and safety concerns last year – a decision made by the county road superintendent,” said Hammonds.
While it is up to the county to keep the bridge closed, Hammonds said if they decide to reopen it, then TDOT must inspect it first.
The plans to demolish the bridge have been drawn up by TDOT. The projected cost of the demolition is $1.4 million and fully state funded. However, Hammonds said if it is canceled, then the county could be responsible for $280,000.
So, why hasn’t the bridge been demolished? Hammonds said TDOT is waiting on a permit approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).
“To remove the bridge, machinery and equipment has to be placed in the water, which requires a permit. We’ve experienced delays in getting that permit because a 30-day response time was missed.” Hammonds added TDOT will have to resubmit the request.
Another reason the bridge demolition has not moved forward is because the different steps USACE has to work through.
“As part of the permit application review, USACE must ensure sure that the activities authorized by the permit decision comply with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA),” said Joshua Frost, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District Regulatory chief.
“Given that USACE has determined the removal of the bridge will be an Adverse Effect to historic properties, the USACE is working to resolve the effect, with the Tennessee State Historic Preservation Office and Advisory Council on Historic Preservation – if applicable,” he continued.
While the future of the bridge hangs in the balance, the members of the Sandy Hook 5 Arch Bridge Foundation pray the piece of history that brings out the character of their community will remain in place for generations to come.