For as long as there have been people and rivers, people have attempted to conquer rivers.
Throughout the years, those river conquests have come in the form of fords, ferries, and bridges. The Wil-Cox Bridge stands today as a silent witness to nearly a century of Yadkin River crossings between Rowan and Davidson Counties. This area, extending back three centuries, was known as the Trading Ford.
Today’s traveler driving between Salisbury and Lexington on Interstate 85 does so with little or no knowledge or appreciation for the ease with which they cross the Yadkin River. Indeed, modern commuters on Interstate 85 anecdotally connect themselves moreto the route than the place.
Yet, three hundred years ago, the Yadkin River was a formidable crossing in central North Carolina.
The Wil-Cox Bridge was born out of what many historians recognize as North Carolina’s “Good Roads Movement” and has its origin in the Doughton-Conner Good Roads Bill of 1921. At that time, the route was named, not numbered, the “Central Highway.” As an extension of this legislation, the State later began to number its roads and “Central Highway” became N.C. Highway 10.
Construction on the Wil-Cox bridge began in January of 1923. For one of the first times in state history, construction would be funded through state-level automobile license taxes and gasoline sales taxes. The total cost of the project in 1924 was $212,500.
The Hardaway Construction Company was responsible for implementing W. L. Craven's open-spandrel design. The bridge would stretch a total of 1,299 feet across the Yadkin River and be supported by seven 150-foot hinge-less concrete arch spans. These being flanked on each end by two forty-foot concrete deck girder spans with fascia screens also repeat an arched appearance.
The bridge opened on August 15, 1924. Attorney W. L. Cohoon’s speech extolled the virtues of state funding for road improvements and touted the accomplishments of his fellow North Carolinians in the design and construction of the project. The bridge was named after the two highway commissioners at the time from Davidson and Rowan County—
W.E. Wilkinson and Elwood Cox. Significantly on that day, 1,000 cars crossed over the new bridge—a sign of things to come for the next eighty years.
Today, the Wil-Cox Bridge carries no vehicle traffic but retains its extra- ordinary character. Instead of facing demolition when the current bridges of Interstate 85 were built, Davidson County requested and received ownership of bridge.
The preservation of the bridge has encouraged and augmented the ongoing efforts of agencies, individuals, and groups to link the area’s recreational, natural, historical, and cultural resources along the two sides of the Yadkin River.
Written by Chris Watford