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Butt Memorial Bridge will soon see less traffic

Historic structure's future still secure

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Nearly a century after one of Augusta's favorite sons lost his life on the Titanic, the historic downtown bridge built to honor his passing faces a working retirement of sorts.

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More than 14,000 cars pass over Butt Memorial Bridge's steep rise every day in Augusta, according to the latest traffic counts.  Jackie Ricciardi/Staff
Jackie Ricciardi/Staff
More than 14,000 cars pass over Butt Memorial Bridge's steep rise every day in Augusta, according to the latest traffic counts.

Fifteenth Street traffic over the Butt Memorial Bridge is expected to decrease by about a third when work is completed on the new St. Sebastian Way Extension project later this year, according to Mike Keene, area engineer for the Georgia Department of Transportation.

More than 14,000 vehicles cross over the bridge's steep rise every day, according to the latest traffic counts. But with a series of new ramps designed to divert traffic to Greene Street and a new bridge spanning the Augusta Canal, the Butt will soon carry less of the load.

The fact that it will see any traffic at all is an accomplishment to many.

The original state plans for the new downtown roadwork called for replacing or disconnecting the bridge from traffic. A later plan called for creating another bridge nearby, which would have essentially rendered the structure obsolete, said Erick Montgomery, the director of Historic Augusta.

In the mid-1990s, an outpouring of community support for the bridge saved it from such a fate.

Today -- 98 years after the Titanic hit an iceberg and began sinking in 1912 -- officials say its future is secure.

"Not that something couldn't come up down the road, but I think that everybody feels like it's pretty safe from any sort of highway department threat," said Ross Snellings, who founded the Butt Memorial Bridge Legal Defense Fund in response to plans to replace the bridge.

Snellings said changes to the St. Sebastian Way extension project -- made in part because of the outcry against replacing the Butt Bridge -- means it won't be harmed.

"Now that we're building St. Sebastian Way, the Butt Bridge will stay exactly where it is," Keene said.

Why do so many people care what happens to a 96-year-old structure with peeling white paint and a slope so steep drivers can't see the traffic stopped ahead of them? It's a one-of-a-kind historic treasure, Montgomery says.

It's Augusta's most ornate bridge -- with gilded lions, glass globes and masonry eagles adorning its sides. It also has a reinforced concrete arch, which was a relatively new technique at the time it was built, according to Tom Robertson of Cranston Engineering Group on Ellis Street.

"I don't know of another bridge like it," he said.

More than that, it is the only memorial to a true hero. The bridge's namesake, Maj. Archibald Butt, died while on special assignment from his friend, President William H. Taft.

The president sent Butt to take a special communication to the pope and was persuaded by a friend to book passage on the Titanic's maiden voyage, according to a story in The Chronicle .

Butt had always wished "to die in such a manner as to reflect credit upon the name I bear," and many feel he did just that by helping to get numerous passengers to the lifeboats, the story said. His body was never recovered.

In May 1912, Taft traveled to Augusta and delivered a tearful eulogy to about 1,500 people in the city's Grand Opera House. On April 14, 1914, he returned to Augusta to dedicate the Butt Memorial Bridge as a permanent honor to the major.

That alone makes the bridge a special case, Montgomery said.

"To remove it or to destroy it would be like destroying a tombstone."

Maj. Archibald Willingham Butt

- Born Sept. 26, 1865, in Augusta

- Worked as a newspaper correspondent in Louisville, Ky., and Macon, Ga.

- A novelist whose works included Behind the Lines, which ran in The Augusta Chronicle in July 1912.

- Personal aide to Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft.

- Died April 15, 1912, on the Titanic after visiting the pope in Rome.

Sources: The Augusta Chronicle, www.arlingtoncemetery.net.

THE BRIDGE

- It's Augusta's most ornate bridge -- with gilded lions, glass globes and masonry eagles adorning its sides

- It has a reinforced concrete arch.

- It was dedicated by President Taft on April 14, 1914.

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Brad Owens
4859
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Brad Owens 04/14/10 - 05:29 am
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His rifle, a Krag-Jorgensen

His rifle, a Krag-Jorgensen Carbine, that he carried during the Spanish American War in Cuba is on display at the Augusta Museum of History.

We need an "Maj. Archibald Willingham Butt's Day" that is celebrated every year with a memorial at the bridge (maybe a reenactment of it's dedication) followed by an openhouse and special dispaly at the Museum.

There are living history groups for the Spanish American War and they would come from all over to get a chance to participate in a living history day I am sure.

Augusta needs honor citizens like Maj. Butt. I would vol and contribute to an even t like that.

Brad

sojourner
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sojourner 04/14/10 - 07:41 am
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"...the Butt will soon carry

"...the Butt will soon carry less of the load." ::snicker:: Feels like I'm back in middle school again...

SnidleyWhiplash
2
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SnidleyWhiplash 04/14/10 - 09:02 am
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Brilliant idea Brad - I

Brilliant idea Brad - I couldn't agree more!

corgimom
36797
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corgimom 04/14/10 - 10:49 am
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Great idea, Brad!

Great idea, Brad!

Just tired
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Just tired 04/14/10 - 12:36 pm
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Brad has an excellent idea.

Brad has an excellent idea. And for once I'm proud to see that Augusta made a positive, intelligent decision when it comes to dealing with its own history. Most or at least much of Augusta history has been demolished due to blind politicos believing they knew best how to move the area into better times. What they actually did was damage or destroy much of what attracts people to other communities... Hisory of that community.

countyman
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countyman 04/14/10 - 01:13 pm
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I think it depends on the

I think it depends on the type of building or structure. Saving the Sibley Mill, Martha Lester school, William Robinson school, the old Davidson, old Houghton school, Sutherland Mill, King Mill, etc. All of them are great investments. The extra tax base is wonderful.

But there are some buildings who are JUST old. They need to be demolished and replace with newer/modern buildings. Augusta's downtown can have a mixture of historic and newer buildings.

I'm definitely for saving the Miller theatre and Woolworth building. Both projects should see some construction. In the near future.

Brad Owens
4859
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Brad Owens 04/14/10 - 01:13 pm
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countryman, This is a bridge

countryman,

This is a bridge not a building.

Brad

countyman
21303
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countyman 04/14/10 - 01:30 pm
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I know it's a bridge and not

I know it's a bridge and not a building. In general when people are discussing whether to demolished older structures. Usually it's concerning older buildings in the downtown area.

Little Lamb
47994
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Little Lamb 04/14/10 - 01:22 pm
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That “old” Davidson school

That “old” Davidson school building could have been maintained and restored into a fine structure that could have been used for any number of businesses. But the school board has let it deteriorate too far and it needs to be demolished, the lot cleaned up, and the lot sold to a private entity. It is a slap in the taxpayers' faces for the school board to allow empty schools to sit for years as they deteriorate. When a school is closed, the property needs to be put up for sale as soon as possible.

countyman
21303
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countyman 04/14/10 - 03:40 pm
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All the old schools are for

All the old schools are for sale. The old davidson school is being restored.

William Robinson is twelve luxury condominiums ranging from one to three bedrooms and 12 townhomes. The SchoolHOUSE will be ready for occupancy by Spring of 2010.
http://www.schoolhouseaugusta.com/index.html

Martha Lester School is under construction and will be residential/commercial.

Floyd Graham was demolished and is cemetary parking.

Old Hornsby elementary was brought by Fellowship Church of the United.

wm.strickland
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wm.strickland 04/14/10 - 05:40 pm
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I'm glad there will be less

I'm glad there will be less traffic across the bridge. This means less stress of it and will help us to be able to preserve it longer for future generations to enjoy. I learned to ride a bicycle riding up and down that canal bank and the Butts Bridge. Wonderful childhood memories.

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