For those who live in the Sears Hill neighborhood overlooking Staunton, a century-old historic iron pedestrian footbridge over the railroad tracks is an important connection to downtown and the train station.
When the bridge was closed seven months ago because of safety issues due to age and deterioration, Sears Hill was isolated by the steep drop to the railroad tracks below, and residents had to access the downtown area by one of the streets off the small urban mountain.
While city officials wrangled with the bridge's owner about what to do and who would pay, Stauntonians wanted it repaired and reopened. Estimates of the cost were reported to be anywhere from $100,000 to $250,000 at a time when the city was feeling the pinch of difficult financial times.
According to WHSV TV-3, Deputy City Manager Jim Halasz commented, "The city was not really prepared to look at this type of an expense. We have done our best to work with [bridge owner], and I think he has done the same. Luckily, we have interested community members who we think are going to assist in this project."
An agreement was finally reached Tuesday between bridge owner and Roanoke businessman Richard Macher of MH Staunton, the City of Staunton, the Historic Preservation Commission, and citizens interested in seeing the structure restored.
As reported by the Staunton News Leader:
The bridge's current owner, MH Staunton LLC, agreed to pay for the cost of removing the bridge as part of a $20,000 contribution to the project.
City council has agreed to match the $20,000 as seed money to get the project started, Deputy City Manager James Halasz told the Historic Preservation Commission on Wednesday.
...Commission chairman David Brown said he'd already seen substantial interest from the community and the private sector to help finance the project.
The bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places in a city that respects her historical heritage. Sears Hill is part of that heritage.
Sears Hill was named for Dr. Barnas Sears who lived in the Sears House from 1867-1880. A bracketed cottage popularized in America by Andrew Jackson Downing, it is located at the top of the steep hill and was built to overlook downtown Staunton although large shade trees now block the summer view.
Dr. Sears, president of Brown University from 1855-1867, was a prominent educator who was chosen by George Peabody of Massachusetts to distribute scholarships from his $3,500,000 Peabody Fund to promote "intellectual, moral, or industrial education among the young of the Southern and Southwestern States of our Union," reported to be the basis of free schooling throughout the post-Civil War South. To do this, Dr. Sears based himself in Staunton where he lived until his death. His house still stands and is under renovation, part of the rich architectural heritage of the central Shenandoah Valley.