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A Plea From Tom's Creek Bridge

Michael Hillman

For well over 110 years, I have stood, a simple, sturdy little bridge. I have carried generations of families and friends across Toms Creek. Built long before the age of motor vehicles, standing on my deck, one may hear the echoes of the history of the community I have served. Built in the age of the horse and buggy, my wooden planks once reverberated with the sounds of hoof beats and carriage wheels and the laughter of families on their way to town.

Through wintry storms, the glories of spring, the heat of the summer, and the brilliant colors of fall, I have served my community. The years, however, have taken their toll on me-as they do on all creations of man-and, after many years of faithful service, I was closed for long overdue repairs. Unfortunately for me, my repair was entrusted to individuals not part of our community, individuals who had no sense of the part I have played in the lives of the people I have used me.

The events leading up to and following Hurricane Fran, which resulted in my fall, will be the subject of much legal debate. While the painter's only lost their bonuses, the citizens of Emmitsburg lost me. As I write, I lie on dry land, having only recently been retrieved from my resting place in the creek I once spanned. Alas, there are those among you who feel that my retrieval should only be the first step not in my restoration, but in my destruction.

Some have called me too outdated, too small and too old and have said that a modern two-lane, concrete bridge would make traffic flow more easily. Easier than what? For those of you who use me, you know that you may stand on my deck for hours and enjoy the scenery without ever being disturbed by the passage of a car.

How may children, young and now old, have stopped and stared down between my deck boards and watched the creek run beneath me. If one could look back in my history, many of your parents could be found playing with you and your dogs in the shallow waters beneath me. How many tired souls have leaned on my wrought iron railing, seeking solitude in the peaceful sound of the wind in the trees, the bubbling of the water, and the brilliant sunsets that christen the end of each day. My ability to support traffic is not and will never be an issue.

It is said that a new bridge is necessary to make the passage of farm equipment easer. If so, how is it that farmers have used me for years without issue? Even while I was closed, the farmers only wondered about the time of my reopening. Has farm equipment grown that much larger since my unfortunate fall this summer? I think not. The amount of farm traffic across me is insignificant and confined to very specific periods of the year. To destroy me because I cannot carry one piece of equipment is a travesty of justice, especially when one considers that multiple alternate routes are available, the use of which will only result in few minutes delay.

The question before you is simple. You can build a new two-lane, concrete bridge or you can restore me. A two-lane, concrete bridge will allow, once or twice a week, two cars to pass each other over the creek, and it will make it a little easer to bring across a few pieces of farm equipment a couple times a year. But, at what price? A Concrete bridge will be impersonal. It will have no character, and will be devoid of our history. It will be insignificant, just like the millions of other bridges ferrying busy people into the hectic world-a world that is, even now, knocking too loudly and persistently at the door of our community.

A concrete bridge inspires no one. Have you ever seen children and dogs frolic in the waters below the any of the concrete bridges in the area? Have you ever seen people stop their cars and walk the length of a concrete bridge to take in the bounty of nature? Who among you that have walked grandchildren across me will also walk them across a faceless concrete bridge? A concrete bridge is just a continuation of the road, a way to get from point A to B point faster. Is getting there a few seconds faster worth destroying a piece of your history?

Emmitsburg, which has only recently received the distinction of historic classification, is one of the most charming communities in one of the most pristine parts of Maryland. Through your representatives in the state and country governments, you have spent countless millions of dollars buying the development rights of farms around me to preserve the country setting in which I sit. Am I not also part of the country setting you wish to preserve? Don't I deserve the same consideration?

However, if you go forward with my restoration, you will be embracing what is best about this community: simplicity, peacefulness, history and, yes, even stability. I have stood and served you for longer than living memory. No one alive today was alive when your great-great grandfathers laid my foundations, tightened my bolts, laid my first planks and applied my first coat of paint.

It is my wish that I will still be standing long after those I serve today will have joined those who so lovingly created me. Progress is important, but is it more important than serenity? More important than our sense of community? More important than history? I stand for these and much, much more. Let someone else choose a concrete bridge and the so-called progress it represents. You, who have chosen Emmitsburg for its tranquility, now please choose for the sound of hoof beats and carriage wheels on an old, wooden-decked bridge. Please choose my restoration, not my destruction!

Tom's Creek Bridge

Read other stories by Michael Hillman