New Pea Island Bridge Named for Richard Etheridge

From NCDOT. Getting ready to remove the old bridge with the Richard Etheridge Bridge next to it.
From NCDOT. Getting ready to remove the old bridge with the Richard Etheridge Bridge next to it.
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.

Celebrating Heroes, Celebrating Flight at Wright Memorial

Commandant of the US Coast Guard Admiral Zukunft.
Commandant of the US Coast Guard Admiral Zukunft.

We had one of the best Celebrations of Flight at the Wright Brothers Memorial we’ve had in a while.

The annual event held on December 17, marking the date of the Wright Brothers first flight, is held a the Wright Brothers Memorial in Kill Devil Hills.

It’s a time to recall the heroes of flight. This year the honorees were the first two Coast Guard helicopter pilots, Captain Erikson and Commander Graham.

Erikson graduated first in 1940s and Graham soon after in 1943. Both were personally trained by helicopter pioneer Igor Sikorsky.

How and what a helicopter could do was a blank slate at that time and almost everything we now take for granted that rotary wing aircraft can do was done first by Erikson and Graham.

Telling their story was Commandant of the US Coast Guard Admiral Zukunft.

Mixing humor with good story telling, he laid out both what Erikson and Graham accomplished and how it has led to the modern use of helicopters.

Frank Erikson was the first person to use a helicopter to pull someone from the sea using a hoist. That first hoist, Admiral Zukunft mentioned was a tow truck hoist.

He brought that into the present, talking about the many lives the Coast Guard has saved, describing the sound of the whirr of the helicopter as the sound of God to someone being rescued at sea.

As it turns out, the Outer Banks did figure in some of the helicopter firsts. The first aerial delivery of mail by a helicopter was flown by Graham, flying mail from Elizabeth City to Hatteras.

Perhaps more significantly, Commander Graham flew the first night helicopter medical evacuation in December of 1947, flying a patient from Cape Hatteras to the hospital in Elizabeth City. According to his notes, he flew along the coast, using the bioluminescence of the breaking waves until he could see the lights of Elizabeth City.

This really was one of the more interesting Celebrations of Flight. It was a bit disappointing that the hoped for flyover of Coast Guard aircraft could not be accomplished.

The weather at the Wright Brothers Memorial was fine, but at Elizabeth City where the aircraft was stationed it was foggy with a very low ceiling. One twin engine Coast Guard plane did make the flight, but we didn’t see any others.