Members of the Stuart W. Cramer High School band marched down the middle of a new bridge across the South Fork River Saturday morning as American flags on light posts flapped in the breeze.
A crowd applauded the marchers when they reached the end of the 444-foot-long, 40-foot wide concrete structure named after local mill executive C.C. Dawson, who died in 1965.
Among the onlookers were members of the Dawson family attending the official opening and re-dedication of the bridge in Cramerton.
“My grandfather would be proud,” said Claude Dawson, 57, of Greensboro. He stood near the spot where he had his picture taken when the original bridge was dedicated in 1962, 10 years after its completion.
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Dawson’s grandfather missed the big day because he was in Europe on a business trip.
Even though his grandson didn’t understand all of what was going on in 1962, “I knew it was an event — I was wearing a bow tie,” said Claude Dawson. “My mother said, ‘No, it’s not your bridge.’ ’’
The original bridge, which was dismantled nearly 1 1/2 years ago, cost $160,000; its replacement cost almost $4 million.
But speakers at the re-dedication ceremony, which included a ribbon-cutting and unveiling of a C. Claudius Dawson sign, felt it was worth the wait.
The new bridge connects Lakewood Road and North Main Street, a popular corridor from Cramerton to U.S. 74, Belmont, Charlotte and other points east. This route was disrupted during construction, and many downtown business owners complained that some customers stopped coming because of the detour.
On Saturday, Mike Holder, chief engineer with the N.C. Department of Transportation, said the bridge project had been “plagued with problems.”
Among them was debris that construction crews encountered in the river bed. Holder said much of what they found probably came from an old railroad trestle. A DOT engineer said crews recovered a stone relic with the date 1871.
Despite the issues, Holder said work crews persevered and the final product was something folks could “enjoy for generations.”
He called it a “beautiful bridge to Cramerton’s past,” one that only connects Cramerton and Belmont, but creates a safer and more convenient access to the nearby Stuart W. Cramer High School.
Among the neighbors who dropped by for the ceremony was Herman Beaty, 88, who had attended the dedication of the original bridge decades earlier.
“It looks real good,” said Beaty as he surveyed the structure.
For Mary Stroupe, the sleek new South Fork bridge was also a welcome sight. “I’m so delighted,” she said. “It beautifies my property.”
The ceremony was the second bridge celebration in Cramerton in one week. On Thursday, the town held a ground breaking for a pedestrian bridge across the South Fork River, linking downtown to a public park on Goat Island. The prefabricated bridge will be 165 feet long and 12 feet wide. But the entire span, including approaches and ramps, will be 365 feet long.
The $1 million project is expected to be completed by April.
Before the ceremony, Cramerton Mayor Ronnie Worley showed Dawson family members around the town hall, formerly headquarters for Burlington Mills, Cramerton division.
When S. Bobo Tanner of Nashville, Tenn., recognized his grandfather’s old office it stirred memories from childhood.
“He was kind and gentle and well-dressed,” said Tanner, 58, an assistant professor at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “I suspect he treated people in the mill like he treated his family and grandchildren. He always had a sincere interest in the people around him.”
What would his grandfather think of having his name on another bridge across the South Fork River?
“It’s a great honor,” said Tanner. “And I think he’d be thrilled to be on it again.”