Photo from the collection of Charles Shorty Johnson
1950 Studebaker chicken truck sitting
precariously on the broken section of what is now known as
Chicken Bridge. See Barbara Pugh's article below, "The
Day Chicken Bridge Got Its Name."
Day Chicken Bridge Got Its Name by
Barbara Clark Pugh
the chickens as they flap their wings to get to a roost in the trees
along Haw River? See the broken, empty chicken coops on the banks as
feathers float on the rippling water? Touch the broken pieces of the
old truss bridge that gave up on its promise to provide a safe
passage over the river. Smell the aroma of fresh-fried chicken
coming from the neighbor's house? Maybe you'll be invited to come
and sit a spell and talk about the day that Chicken Bridge got its
day in the early 1950s Walter Hugh Campbell's workday was probably
shaping up to be pretty much like normal. Until a section of the
bridge fell while he and his truck, loaded with chickens, were
crossing. It could have been exciting for the chickens, for they
were on a one-way trip to the processing plant; now they had a world
to experience outside the chicken house.
Campbell probably found it less exciting, as he and his 1950
Studebaker truck sat precariously on the broken section of the
bridge, with a piece of the metal truss pressing on his arm, which
was outside the window. This was his position until his
brother-in-law Harry Fox, driving a truck behind him, could wade
across the river to rescue
him. Mr. Fox had his own set of problems, though. To save himself,
he had to stop his truck, also loaded with chickens, before he got
to the edge of the broken bridge. The last truck in the four-truck
chicken caravan was driven by Winfred Buckner. The first truck,
which had already crossed safely, was carrying Clyde Reid Perry and
Charles Shorty Johnson. Such a group of trucks and men was a common
sight in Chatham County in the early 1950s, as practically every
farm family in the county received some part of their livelihood
all went together: chicken-raising, chicken-catching,
chicken-hauling, chicken-killing. And chicken-eating. In the late
evening of that fateful day, flashlights could be seen in the woods
as folks went about catching the wayward birds.
exact date of the event leading to the name Chicken Bridge is
unknown, but for a long time there was no bridge across the Haw in
that place. In January 1954 the Chatham Record reported action of
the county commissioners petitioning State Highway Commissioner A.
H. Graham to replace Baldwin's
Bridge because it was the only link between Hadley and Baldwin
townships and between upper Chatham and Orange counties. According
to the petition, residents had had to travel many miles to get to
the other side of the river since the bridge collapsed several years
ago. The petition was successful and a wooden bridge replaced the
truss bridge in 1954.
wooden bridge had an interesting life of its own. In the 1970s
military bombers used it for target practice. Even though the
bullets weren't real, the real noise had neighbors signing
petitions. The neighbors had the final victory. Then for several
years in the 1980s the bridge was the focal point of the annual
Chicken Bridge Run, a benefit race sponsored by the East Chatham
the most shining time for the little one-lane wooden bridge was at
Halloween. Cassie Wasko wrote a tribute to the spirit of the bridge and
the neighborhood in the November 5, 1987, Chatham Record:
There must have been 500 folks out at Chicken Bridge Halloween
night. They ranged from costumed kids to elderly folk out to see the
pumpkins lining the bridge. The sight of all those people with
something constructive to do on Halloween was a real treat, not to
mention the fun of seeing the creatively-carved pumpkins
pumpkins and how they came to appear on the bridge magically just in
time for Halloween has been sort of a mystery ever since it started a
few years ago. But more than a mystery, it is community service
available at no cost through the generosity of some community-minded,
fun-loving folks. There aren't any government grants funding this
project; there aren't any in-kind services. It is simply a gathering of
folks who pay for the pumpkins and candles and provide the scenic
attraction as a public service.
a world where most folks think they deserve to profit in some way for
everything they do, it is especially nice to see something like the
pumpkin display just for fun and for the enjoyment of others.
of the big new cement bridge began in November 1988. Destruction of the
old one-lane wooden bridge began in November 1989.
is extended to Charles Shorty Johnson for the picture and his stories
and to Wayne Campbell and Melba Dixon, son and daughter of Mr. Walter
Hugh Campbell, for sharing their memories.
Pugh is a member of the CCHA board, a life long resident of Chatham
County and has an interest in genealogy.