published Saturday, February 19th, 2011

Pillars of support

For those who didn't get to participate in the original Walnut Street Bridge fundraising project almost a decade ago, a second chance has come along.

The Parks Foundation kicked off the second campaign Friday morning at the south end of the 120-year-old bridge with a plan to replace the bridge's 1,776 engraved brass plaques with zinc plaques.

Under an overcast sky, former and present mayors shared their stories of the Walnut Street Bridge, discussing how engineers recommended its closing and demolition and the community spirit that saved it and made it into what it is today.

"It's a beauty, I think," said former city Mayor Gene Roberts. "We almost lost it two or three times."

Roberts was among half a dozen community leaders who received a roughly one-pound honorary plaque.

Selling dedicated plaques was part of a grass-roots effort in the early 1990s to restore the bridge, said Rusty Criminger, who worked with the group that helped save the bridge.

"Rather than just asking for donations, we decided we could do something tangible," he said.

In addition to raising money, he said, part of the group's goal was to get people out on the bridge.

"I will never forget the first time I took my wife and son out, we walked along until we found our plaques out there," he said. "For a year or more it was a real item, people going out on the bridge, finding their plaques ... it was a real popular feature."

But over the years, about one-third of the plaques were stolen or vandalized. It began with the souvenir plaques, such as the one for local broadcasting icon Luther Masingill, who was among the first people to purchase one, said Garnet Chapin, president of the Parks Foundation.

But the brass plaques soon were being stolen and taken to scrapyards for money.

"When they realized there was money in them, they began to take them wholesale in which time the city had to put a stop to it and take them all out about eight years ago," Chapin said.

About 400 plaques have been replaced with the zinc ones, he said. The original campaign in the 1990s sold 1,776 brass plaques, and the goal for the new campaign is to sell the same number of zinc plaques by the spring.


* To reserve a plaque or for more information, visit

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about Perla Trevizo...

Perla Trevizo joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 2007 and covers immigration/diversity issues and higher education. She holds a master’s degree in newswire journalism from Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid, Spain, and a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Texas. In 2011 she participated in the Bringing Home the World international reporting fellowship program sponsored by the International Center for Journalists, producing a series on Guatemalan immigrants for which she ...

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