As you drive through the highways and byways of Southern Utah, where the Virgin River winds peacefully through stunning red rock vistas, you turn a certain corner and you'll see it, a magnificent and historic structure, the Rockville Bridge. And as you take in the picturesque view, you begin to realize the structure does more than just span the Virgin River; it's a bridge to Utah's past.
Rockville Mayor Pam Leach explains why the bridge holds a significant place in the hearts of both Rockville residents and the thousands of tourists who have used it over the years. "It's a single lane bridge, so you're forced to slow down when you cross it. This gives you a chance to look down the river to see the herons, ducks, Canadian geese, deer, and other wildlife. Slowing down and taking in the natural beauty of the surrounding area makes people remember where we come from."
The Rockville Bridge was built in 1924 by the National Park Service to provide access for tourists that were coming from the Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon National Parks. The bridge is believed to be the only structure outside of national park boundaries to be funded by the U.S. Park Service and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995.
Joyce Hartless, a Rockville resident and board member on the Rockville Historic Preservation Committee, discusses the history of the bridge. "Stephen Mather was the first National Park Director and back in the early days of the Park Service, he was really involved in the park-to-park highway system. He wanted to see automobile transportation come out to the national parks and had the idea to try to connect all the parks via roadways."
In addition to its historical significance to the national parks, the Rockville Bridge is also architecturally unique. Hartless explains, "The bridge is the last remaining Parker truss through bridge in the state of Utah. A Parker truss bridge is a variation of the Pratt truss bridge. The Parker's polygonal top chord of more than five slopes provides greater strength than the Pratt, allowing for longer spans. The Rockville Bridge spans approximately 220 feet, making it technologically significant because it incorporates distinctive characteristics in its method of construction."
Mayor Leach adds, "Historians have called Rockville, 'Utah's last treasure' and the bridge is part of what gives the town that distinction." "The bridge is like the heart of the community," adds Hartless.
Longtime Rockville resident, and great-great-grandson of one of Rockville's founders, Van Terry Bell, discusses the importance of the bridge. "When I was young, we used to come down here at night to sit on the bridge. When it would rain, we would come down and watch the water rise up. Sometimes it came almost up to the bridge. I think some of the younger kids still do that today. They gather at the bridge at night to sit and talk."
"It's a very popular place for wedding and family photos," Mayor Leach adds. "The Piano Guys filmed one of their music videos, Home, on the bridge. They played their piano and cello on the bridge with the beautiful green trees behind them and the water going down the river way. It's a very photogenic setting."
As the historic bridge approaches 100 years of use, it's in need of repair and restoration. In 2016, the Utah Department of Transportation's committee controlling federal funds for bridge projects gave Rockville a large grant to rehabilitate the historic truss bridge, but there were some conditions involved. Hartless explains, "The town had to match that grant with 6.77% or $169,250. To date we've raised about $70,000 in our bridge fund, plus we've paid for the engineering study that we needed, so we've got to raise about another $100,000 more by October of 2017 when construction is expected to start."
People willing to donate can do so by going to rockvilleutah.org and clicking on the link for the Rockville Bridge. All donations and support will be greatly appreciated. Mayor Leach concludes, "Hopefully by making a donation you will feel good about having preserved some of Utah's history for the future."
Read more from the Utah League of Cities and Towns on DeseretNews.com or visit their website at ulct.org.