New "S-Shaped Bridge" in Hertford (Perquimans County Bridge 8)—built in 1929 by the State Highway Commission on 1798 site of three earlier bridges and a ferry crossing (NCSU Libraries' Digital Collections: Rare and Unique Materials)
Bridges are among the most common and utilitarian structures found in modern society. They are an important element in our individual and collective lives, allowing us to cross rivers, sounds, bays, creeks, railroads, and highways with ease and safety. This was not always the case: the earliest generations of North Carolinians had few bridges and crossing obstacles could be arduous tasks involving fords, ferries, or circuitous routes.
Fortunately, the past 200 years of North Carolina transportation history have been characterized by a series of improvements aimed at increasing capacity, speed, directness, flexibility, and regularity of service. Wagon roads, turnpikes, canals, railroads, and motor highways—each in its turn has left a direct and strong series of cumulative imprints on the landscape and environment. Bridges are an integral and highly visible part of the state's historic transportation network.
Children cross footbridge over Cane River in Yancey County to reach waiting school bus (Courtesy of The State Archives of North Carolina)
Many highway bridges are at or near crossings chosen by that region's early inhabitants. They are the third, fourth, or even fifth-generation structures at their sites—once perhaps served by a ferry or a ford—or they are on a highway that parallels an older road. While the present bridge may be wider, stronger, or realigned for modern traffic, its goal of conveying people and goods has remained much the same since its locale was initially settled and developed. Rare are bridges that were not built in response to already existing transportation demands and patterns.