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Bridge Game

It's likely happened at least once when we leave the island to travel downtown, or to Mt. Pleasant. There we are, making good progress along Maybank Highway toward Folly Road when....the bridge is up. Full stop.

The Wappoo Creek Bridge (formally, the Burnet R. Maybank Bridge) is one of only two remaining movable bridges in greater Charleston, the other being the Ashley River Bridge that carries Savannah Highway over the river. Both are drawbridges dating in their present incarnation from the mid-1950's, although Wappoo Creek's is actually the third bridge to cross what is sometimes called Wappoo Cut, a tributary of the Stono River now part of the Intracoastal Waterway. So while we're stalled at the bridge, we can wile away the time by contemplating the history around us.

We're sitting on what was once part of the McLeod Plantation, which stretched along what is now Folly Road to Harborview Road, along Maybank Highway to the Stono River, and whose more than eight hundred acres now lie under the shopping malls and fast food restaurants of this eastern end of James Island. (A small portion including the McLeod family home survives and is managed by Charleston County Parks as an historic site.) Nineteenth-century travelers between James Island and St. Andrews Parish (what we now call West Ashley) had to cross the creek by steamboat at the McLeod's landing, where the family opened a store selling provisions and dry goods. Even earlier, in the eighteenth century, Eliza Lucas famously began cultivating indigo along the banks of the creek, the first to do so in colonial America.

The first bridge across the Wappoo, c.1903

The first permanent wood-trestle bridge was built in 1899 at the landing, west of the present bridge; a second span replaced it just after the First World War, when West Ashley's development had begun and the Charleston Country Club bought 200 acres of the McLeod property for its golf course. Today's bridge was sited to the east to align it with state road 171/Folly Road.

The drawbridge, with its thirty-three-foot center clearance, is an "on demand" bridge, required to open on request from boaters traveling between Charleston Harbor and Wappoo Cut and the Intracoastal. On weekdays, when a request is received, it will open on the half-hour between 9am and 4pm on weekdays, until 7pm on weekends. Despite the frequent traffic backups and grousing from motorists, there have been no publicly revealed plans to replace the bridge. Depending on the amount of waterborne traffic, the opening and closing process can take fifteen minutes or more, so rely on patience and a sense of history to pass the time.

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