New Bridge Opens on Pea Island
Even though it opened for traffic a little while ago, the Richard Etheridge Bridge down on Pea Island had its official naming yesterday.
When Hurricane Irene created a new inlet just north of New Inlet on Pea Island, NCDOT moved quickly to get a temporary bridge in place. Yes, it looked like a tinker toy, but they had it in place and open for traffic in six weeks.
It performed as advertised for six-and-a-half years, although traffic had to slow way down to cross it.
It was never going to be a permanent solution, and everyone knew it.
The new span, the Richard Etheridge Bridge, is almost twice as long—663’ vs 1100’—and beautifully engineered. It is not, however, going to be the permanent solution.
This bridge has a planned lifespan of 25 years, and the long-range strategy calls for it to be replaced with a bridge probably somewhere to the west.
Who Was Richard Etheridge
Naming the bridge for Richard Etheridge is appropriate.
Etheridge was the captain of the Pea Island Lifesaving Station from the 1880s through the 1890s.
The Pea Island Lifesaving Station was the only all African American crew in the Lifesaving Service and was consistently rated as one of the best on the Outer Banks.
He was a slave when he was born in 1842 on Roanoke Island. Although it cannot be confirmed, circumstantial evidence suggests that his father was John B. Etheridge, his owner.
When Northern forces captured Roanoke Island, he was freed and quickly enlisted in the Union Army, rising to the rank of sergeant.
In the 1870s the Lifesaving Service, the predecessor to the US Coast Guard, was hiring local watermen who understood the environment around them. Etheridge became Surfman #6 at Bodie Island, the lowest rank and the only rank an African American was permitted at that time.
Nonetheless, his work was noted with one inspector writing, “…one of the best surfmen on this part of the coast of North Carolina.”
Promoted to command the Pea Island Station, he was noted for expecting his crew to be the best. His expectations paid off when the schooner E.S. Newman ran aground on Pea Island.
He and his turfmen rescued the captain, the captain’s wife, their three-year-old child and all six crewmen in a hurricane so powerful it had overwashed Pea Island.
It took a while but in 1996 President Clinton awarded the Coast Guard’s Gold Lifesaving Medal posthumously to the descendents of the crew.
When Hurricane Irene created a new inlet, it also exposed the remains of the Pea Island Station water tower, indicating how close to the bridge named for Richard Etheridge is to the station.