City, Historic Beaufort Foundation raising money for Woods Bridge designation

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From staff reports

Hoping to ensure the future of the iconic Woods Memorial Bridge, the City of Beaufort and the Historic Beaufort Foundation are working together to raise funds to achieve the bridge’s listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

According to to a press release from the City of Beaufort, the City and HBF are about halfway toward their goal of raising $7,000 to hire a professional preservation consultant who would conduct the detailed research and prepare the architectural and engineering documentation needed to build the case for the bridge’s listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

The bridge, which opened in 1959, is one of only a handful of swing bridges left in South Carolina. It replaced a swing bridge built in 1927. Originally known as the Lady’s Island Bridge, it was renamed in 1971 in honor of Richard V. Woods, a local South Carolina Highway Patrol trooper killed in the line of duty. The bridge’s arm opens on a regular basis to allow boat traffic on the Intracoastal Waterway to pass through.

The bridge is a good candidate to be listed, HBF Executive Director Cynthia Cole Jenkins said in a release.

“It has the setting over the Beaufort River, the sense of place as it connects to the Historic Downtown District,” she said. “It’s critical that we keep it viable.”

The scale of the bridge, she noted, matches the scale of the Historic District.

The National Register, she explained, looked for what is called seven aspects of “integrity” needed to achieve a listing: location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association. The structure must be at least 50 years old, and possess some significance in American history and culture. The Woods Memorial Bridge was immortalized in the movie Forrest Gump, the 1994 Academy Award winner for Best Picture. In one of the most famous scenes, a bearded Tom Hanks as Forrest is shown running across a Mississippi River bridge. But in actuality, the scene was filmed on the Woods Memorial Bridge.

Mayor Billy Keyserling expressed his support of the project in his newsletter and at City Council’s Work Session on Oct. 20.

“As mayor, with the support of City Council, in partnership with the Historic Beaufort Foundation, we are going to prepare the nomination and secure the recognition because it is a symbol of our history and our character.”

No taxpayer funds will be used for the consultant. The City and HBF are asking people to contribute to Beaufort Pride of Place, a City fund that raises money from private donations to support City improvement initiatives. You can make donations online at the City’s website or mail a check to Beaufort Pride of Place, Finance Department, 1911 Boundary St., Beaufort S.C. 29902.

Jenkins explained that a listing on the National Register gives the bridge “a higher level of protection.” She said a more stringent review process automatically is required in the federal funding and federal permitting process when a structure is listed on the National Register.

Once the application is submitted, it is reviewed by the State Historic Preservation Office, Jenkins said, to ensure accuracy in all its documentation. From there it goes to the State Board of Review, comprised of preservation, history, and planning experts (Jenkins is a member). Once it passes muster with the state board, the application is submitted to the National Park Service, which oversees the National Register, for final vetting.

Jenkins said that once the process starts, she would expect the bridge to win the designation in the first half of 2021.