Dedication of the New River Gorge Bridge

Beckley Post Herald and Register
October 23, 1977

30,000 Attend Dedication Events

By Cathy Clark
Register Reporter

At approximately 1:30 p.m. yesterday, Gov. Jay Rockefeller snipped the yellow ribbon spanning the width of U.S. 19-21, and the world's largest steel arch bridge officially was opened to traffic.

The New River Gorge Bridge was described in various poetic passages by the speakers at the dedication ceremony. Fayetteville Mayor John L. Witt called the bridge a "phenomenal feat of man's ingenuity." "A new wonder of the world" was the description offered by D.M. Roderick, president of U.S. Steel, and Sen. Robert C. Byrd sent a telegram proclaiming the bridge to be "a technical masterpiece."

All dignitaries seemed to agree that the 3,030 foot expanse, built at a cost of approximately $37 million, would be an asset to the state.

Dedication ceremonies began at noon, but the more than 30,000 people present began arriving as early as 5 a.m. to walk across the bridge.

The dedication started with a harmonica rendition of the National Anthem performed by Fayette County native and country and western entertainer, Charlie McCoy. He later performed "Shenandoah," "Amazing Grace" and "Country Roads" with a member of his band, Russ Hicks.

Rockefeller, seated at the center of a platform built to resemble the bridge, with Sen. Jennings Randolph and Master of Ceremonies J. Walter Brown, mayor of Oak Hill, could barely be seen above the sea of heads.

LaFayette Post 149 of the Fayetteville American Legion brought a hush over the crowd as they made the presentation of the color guard, and the ceremony began.

An invocation, delivered by the Rev. Billy Reed Wickline of the Fayetteville United Methodist Church, spoke of the bridge as a "rainbow of promised prosperity and progress."

Following the invocation, Brown, saying he was carrying a briefcase onto the stage "because I never get a second chance to make a good first impression," spoke of the effects the bridge would have the the [sic] surrounding communities.

With an introduction of former governors Arch A. Moore Jr., Hulett C. Smith and Okey L. Patteson, and former commissioners of the State Department of Highways, William S. Ritchie Jr. and Joseph "Speed" Jones, Witt welcomed the group to his community.

The one and one-half hour dedication included speeches by Roderick, contractor for the bridge, Michael Baker III, chief executive officer of the Michael Baker Corp., design engineer for the bridge, and commissioner Charles L. Miller of the state Department of Highways.

Roy D. Cruikshank, president of the Fayette Plateau Chamber of Commerce, and Speaker Donald L. Kopp of the House of Delegates also spoke.

Sen. Jennings Randolph won the approval of the crowd by saying, "It's great to be in West Virginia."

Randolph asked the crowd to join hands with their neighbor saying, "We are all united in what has been done today and what can be done tomorrow."

Senate President W. T. Brotherton Jr. and Gov. Rockefeller both spoke of the New River as the second oldest river in the world, pointing out that good the bridge will bring to the state.

After the formalities, during which a brief schuffle [sic] to find a pair of scissors took place, Rockefeller, his wife Sharon and a Daily Mail Newspaper contest winner began the long line of cars to cross the newly opened bridge.

The winner, Tom Woods, a Charleston native, named the best reason for wanting to ride with the governor over the bridge.

The crowd did not disperse soon after the dedication.

The Frank Withrow family lingered near the bridge. Frank and Norma Withrow came from Cincinnati to view the opening ceremonies. His parents crossed the smaller bridge, below the new steel structure, in 1925 in a Model T Ford. "We have watched the bridge since it started," the elder Mrs. Withrow pointed out. "It is just magnificent."

"Magnificent." That seemed to be a word everyone was repeating Saturday.