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Woods Memorial Bridge now on National Register of Historic Places

BEAUFORT, S.C. – The Woods Memorial Bridge, the iconic swing bridge connecting downtown Beaufort with Lady’s Island, was listed on theNational Register of Historic Places on Jan. 6.

The designation gives the community an opportunity to protect the bridge and potential impacts on Beaufort’s National Historic Landmark District. With the designation, any federal undertaking regarding  licensing, permitting, or funding requires a mitigating review by the State Historic Preservation Office and also requires public comment. 

“This designation is important for our City,” said Mayor Stephen Murray. “With so few working swing bridges in the state, we need to protect the ones we have. The Woods Memorial Bridge adds to Beaufort’s character, distinction and beauty, and the National Register listing recognizes that.”

“Historic Beaufort Foundation is grateful to the City of Beaufort for working toward this official recognition of the significance the Woods Bridge plays in helping Beaufort retain its unique sense of place and its association with our maritime and transportation history,” said HBF Executive Director Cynthia Cole Jenkins. “We value the six decades of partnership with the City in protecting and promoting the architectural history of Beaufort.”

The effort to win the designation began in October of 2020. It was a joint project of the City of Beaufort, under the leadership of then-Mayor Billy Keyserling, and Historic Beaufort Foundation.

The City and HBF launched a fund-raising campaign through the City’s Pride of Place Program to hire a professional preservation consultant to put together the research and paperwork necessary for the application to the National Register.

Upon learning of the listing, the consultant, Kyle Campbell of Preservation South, LLC, said, “The Woods Memorial Bridge is one of the historic resources in Beaufort that almost everyone interacts with whether they are a resident or a tourist. It has been an honor to research and prepare the National Register nomination and I hope it will continue to be a landmark for the Beaufort Community for generations to come.” 

The Woods Memorial Bridge is now one of five bridges in South Carolina listed on the National Register. The others are in Greenville, Horry, and Richland counties.

The bridge opened in 1959, replacing a swing bridge built in 1927. Originally known as the Lady’s Island Bridge, it was renamed in 1971 in honor of Richard V. Woods, a local South Carolina Highway Patrol trooper killed in the line of duty.

The bridge’s center span pivots open horizontally on a regular basis to allow boat traffic on the Intracoastal Waterway to pass through. In 2022, the bridge opened 1,659 times to allow commercial and private vessels to pass through. That ranged from a low in September of 70 to a high in November of 269. Traffic data for 2022 is not yet final but in 2021, the bridge averaged 13,700 vehicle crossings a day.

The application process, which included researching not only the history but the engineering significance of the bridge, began over a year ago. It was reviewed by the staff of the  State Historic Preservation Office, and then moved to the State Board of Review, comprising preservation, history, and planning experts. The State Board of Review approved it in November 2022. The application was then submitted to the National Park Service, which oversees the National Register, for final vetting.

In order to be listed on the National Register, a site must meet seven aspects of “integrity” to achieve a listing: location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association. The structure must be at least 50 years old, and possess some significance in American history and culture. The Woods Memorial Bridge was immortalized in the 1994 Best Picture, Forrest Gump. In one of the most famous scenes a bearded Tom Hanks as Forrest is shown running across a Mississippi River bridge, but in actuality, the scene was filmed on the Woods Memorial Bridge.