Walnut Street Bridge, Chattanooga, Tenn.
The Walnut Street Bridge is Tennessee’s oldest non-military highway bridge still in use today, restored and revitalized as a pedestrian bridge and linear park. In only a generation, The Bridge has become the centerpiece, and a vital connector of Chattanooga’s riverfront renaissance, linking the city’s vibrant North Shore with the Bluff View Arts District, the Hunter Museum of American Art, the Tennessee Riverwalk, and the Tennessee Aquarium. Like the city’s own rebirth, The Bridge’s story is also one of decline and revival.
Since 1978, when it was closed to traffic for safety reasons after serving Chattanooga for 87 years, the Walnut Street Bridge sat disabled, deteriorating, dormant, and yet another reminder of the city's decaying downtown. By the late 1980s, the city had taken steps to demolish the downtrodden bridge, but lacked the funding. Before officials could dismantle the bridge, however, a community campaign comprised of visionary activists, civic leaders, and historic preservationists banded together to save the bridge, envisioning it as a vibrant pedestrian bridge that could help propel a downtown renaissance. After nominating the bridge as an historic landmark, work began to raise the millions necessary to restore The Bridge as a pedestrian walkway, partially funded by a U.S. Department of Transportation grant and with the support of hundreds of thousands of dollars from Chattanoogans.
When the restored Walnut Street Bridge opened in 1993 to much fanfare, the “linear park” soon realized the hopes of its restorers as a dynamic symbol of the rebirth of Chattanooga, and became a “bridge” to the revitalized riverfront and downtown. In the years since the original restoration campaign, the Walnut Street Bridge has emerged as a vibrant, and dynamic symbol of the spirit of Chattanooga. The Bridge has established itself as not only a highly visible landmark and center of community activity, but as the connecting element between Chattanooga’s internationally acclaimed riverfront renaissance and the exciting North Shore, a landmark linking public parks and pedestrian walkways on the revitalized North Shore with the Tennessee Aquarium, the Hunter Museum of American Art, and the Tennessee Riverwalk, which extends some seven miles to the Chickamauga Dam. Besides its near constant daily use, The Bridge has become a favorite venue for events and activities of every kind and description.
From annual events such as Riverbend, Wine Over Water, and Octoberfest, to dozens of smaller events, "The Walking Bridge" is a popular spot to simply stroll, relax, and enjoy the natural and urban beauty of Chattanooga—a true renaissance city.
The Bridge is open year-round, free to the public and is completely ADA compliant. Pets are welcome!
Design & Construction
The Walnut Street Bridge is an historic wrought-iron and steel through truss bridge that spans the Tennessee River in Chattanooga, Tenn. Begun in 1889 and completed in 1891, it was the first to connect Chattanooga's downtown with the North Shore. Designed by renowned engineer Edwin Thatcher, the bridge played a vital role in the economic development of southeastern Tennessee. The bridge's superstructure was assembled by the Smith Bridge Company of Toledo, Ohio, which was a prolific late 19th century bridge builder. The bridge's substructure was constructed by Neeley, Smith and Company of Chattanooga, and most of the parts for the bridge were manufactured by Manly Jail Works of Dalton, Ga., and shipped to the site by rail. The bridge's main spans are pin-connected Pennsylvania through truss spans. The top chord of these truss spans are configured in five sections, making the spans similar to the Camelback truss design. The bridge is historically significant as an extremely long and old example of its type. According to the Historic American Engineering Record: "The bridge was apparently the first non-military highway bridge across the Tennessee River." The commonly known "county bridge" connected the predominantly white city on the south side of the Tennessee River with the large black workforce on the north side ("North Shore") in Hill City, a town that was subsumed into Chattanooga in 1912. Thatcher's bridge served pedestrian and vehicular traffic for 87 years before its age and mounting repair costs forced the city to close it in 1978. The restored pedestrian bridge reopened in 1993.
The Parks Foundation
The Walnut Street Bridge Fund was established by Chattanooga Venture, a community visioning group, to receive funds to be used with city funds to match a federal grant to restore the bridge. At the conclusion of the fund-raising campaign and following the restoration project, there remained a small surplus of funds. These funds were held in a trust account by the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga in order to provide a source for additional improvements and enhancements to the bridge. Those funds have been used for the replacement of the original plaques dedicated in the names of donors to the bridge that were damaged, vandalized or stolen.
With the the launch of a new plaque campaign to replace the original plaques, the original group has been reorganized as The Parks Foundation. The foundation not only continues the original mission, but has expanded beyond the bridge to include other public parks and spaces. Working with both the city and the county, the foundation is committed to enhancements, improvements and programming to extend the utilization of all our parks and public space to the greatest number of people.
The foundation's ongoing new plaque campaign continues to offer new dedicated plaques on the bridge, which it expects to fill by the end of 2011. For information on the plaques, visit the Walnut Street Bridge website at www.walnutstreetbridge.org.
Time Period Represented: 1890 to Present
Hours Open: 24 hours
Visitor Fees: None
Seasons Open: Year-round
Price Style for this Establishment: Free
Pets on leash welcome