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HALETOWN, Tenn. -- When the 1929-era Marion Memorial Bridge was dedicated, 5-year-old Madge Knight Boggild rode in the back of a Ford Model T truck as it became the first vehicle to cross the newly built span across the Tennessee River in Marion County.
On Monday, she was in the last vehicle to cross the public bridge.
Boggild, 87 and the youngest of 10 children, said her oldest brother, Sam, was driving the truck that day with their mother and grandmother riding in the cab and the younger folks sitting around the bed on quilts with their legs hanging over the side.
"Everyone was invited, free of charge," she said, noting the road at each end of the bridge was dirt, not yet asphalt.
Mention of the bridge's closure brings her emotions to the surface, and Boggild predicted she'd cry with the formal closure of the span.
Boggild and her husband, Bob, said they wished the old U.S. Highway 41 bridge could be preserved as a pedestrian bridge or simply as a landmark.
In a short ceremony with county and state officials, local residents and bridge lovers in attendance, Marion County Mayor John Graham said that while local people will miss the bridge the closure signifies a step toward the future.
State Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, who represents Marion County, said the day was important for the area.
"We honor our past, but we live for the future," Berke said. "Today is about economic development, safety for our citizens and making Marion County a better place to live."
Monday's closure stems from problems encountered as piers for the replacement bridge were being built alongside the old span, Tennessee Department of Transportation officials said. TDOT initially intended to keep the old bridge open throughout construction of its replacement, but crews found that some of the rock in the riverbed "contained voids and unsuitable material," forcing the need to construct the footings deeper than planned, officials said.
TDOT regional construction manager Ken Flynn said pier work -- including the blasting and digging -- will happen within 30 feet of the old span, so "we don't want to take any chances."
The subsurface surprises will delay the project from its original completion date of August 2013 to a new date of February 2014, he said.
The closure means folks who live near the bridge now will have a 11/2-mile detour to get across Nickajack Lake on Interstate 24's bridges, TDOT officials said. Signs will be posted.
Transportation department officials say there's an outside chance the old bridge could reopen briefly as the project draws to a close.
But once traffic is shifted to the new bridge, the old span will be demolished as part of the contract, ending its 82-year vigil at the south end of the Sequatchie Valley.
The bridge's first traveler was true to her prediction.
As the 2012 Ford Explorer Boggild rode in Monday completed its final trip across the bridge, she dabbed her eyes and smiled with a glance back over her shoulder as the "road closed" signs were erected.
Contact staff writer Ben Benton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6569.