James River Park manager Ralph White is on fire lately, posting new historic signs all over the city. The latest has popped up at Great Shiplock Park in Shockoe Bottom and has plenty of details about the history of the area. Great Shiplock Park 28th Street Draw Bridge The lift before you was built by […]
James River Park manager Ralph White is on fire lately, posting new historic signs all over the city. The latest has popped up at Great Shiplock Park in Shockoe Bottom and has plenty of details about the history of the area.
Great Shiplock Park
28th Street Draw Bridge
A moveable bridge was always necessary to allow ships from the James River to pass through the Great Shiplock, enter the Tidewater Connection Canal and reach the tobacco industries along Dock Street.
As early as the 1800s there was a moveable railroad bridge here. The first was “Swing Span” Bridge made of wood that moved horizontally out from the shore.
This is a “Bascule” type bridge design — the term is French for “see-saw.” Note how the long deck of the bridge is counter-balanced by large rectangular weights in the back? Thus equally balanced, it did not take a very large electric motor to move the span.
This particular bridge is a modified design: a “Scherzer Rolling Lift Bascule.” It allows the structure to both lift up and rock backwards thus permitting the rail span to be shorter and lighter and easier to move.
Things of note:
- The metal has resisted rusting due to a layer of black tar. Softer and more flexible than paint, it does not chip or blister, but the tar will also never completely dry and so will always smudge.
- The bridge is 123 feet long and was designed to carry 60,000 pounds as measured where the wheel of the locomotive drive axle contacts the tracks.
- In 1982 the span was welded shut and the machinery removed since commercial navigation had long ceased on the canal.
- Dreams of re-opening the canal as a yacht basin may cause the lift bridge to be restored if the Great Shiplock itself is repaired.
Great Shiplock Canal
“The Tidewater Connection”
The canal before you and to the right once provided access to the docks, warehouses and tobacco factories that once lined Dock Street all along the right hand side long before there was and elevated railroad.
Dug by black slaves and Irish immigrants in the 1850s, this short section of canal linked the James River via a series of canal locks to the Kanawha Canal 15 or 20 blocks in the distance. That was the super highway of its time, George Washington’s dream to open up the West, which linked industrial Richmond with the wheat fields, farms and iron smelters of the Great Valley of Virginia.
Sailing ships from Europe and northern cities might unload manufactured goods onto docks or canal boats and then load up with hand-made cigars, barrels of cured tobacco, flour, horse shoes, nails or wire, even granite building stones.
The left-hand shore of the canal is the edge of a long narrow island. It was created by linking one big island with several sandbars, rocks and small islands. The main island once had a church, hence the name Chapel Island. Later it held the Trigg Shipyard. The Western part now holds a large underground Storm Water Retention Basin.
Sign funded by a donation to the James River Park Fund from Barbara Fore (Spring 2011)