COMBS — Homes from Combs to Alais, and even as far away as Bonnyman, reported intense shaking on Feb. 10, the likes of which is usually associated with fault line tremors, as a result of the blast that brought down a large portion of an old bridge on Hwy. 80 in the Combs community. The demolished bridge was one of the oldest in the region, having been built in 1929 and finally falling into the North Fork of the Kentucky River only three years shy of turning 90 years old.
A new bridge to replace the old one has been open to traffic for weeks, after a long period of planning and construction by the Highway Department. Before the final decision to demolish the old bridge was made, highway officials attempted to find someone willing to transport the structure, still intact, to a location where it could be displayed for public view. One reason officials devoted effort to possibly preserving the structure is because the bridge, due to its age, was qualified to become part of the National Register of Historic Places. So far, Perry County’s only listings on the National Register of Historic Places are the Presbyterian Log Cathedral and Greer Gymnasium in Buckhorn, along with an archaeological site located in Viper. When no one stepped forward to accept the task of finding Combs’s landmark a new home during its retirement, the Highway Department chose to collapse the bridge using explosives.
The demolition unfolded according to plan, with dynamite severing the bridge’s deck from its supports, which caused the span to instantly plummet straight down into the waters of the North Fork with its trusses remaining in their original formation. There have been no reports of property damage caused by debris from the blast, which is always a concern when conducting such an operation in the middle of a congested residential area.
However, the surrounding communities did not completely escape consequences of the blast. The thunderous boom created by the detonation scared scores of people, who were unaware of the Highway Department’s planned procedure. Startled citizens called local authorities to inquire about a possible earthquake. One lady said her house in Bonnyman shook hard enough to rattle the picture frames hanging on her walls. Reports also poured in from the central section of Hazard. Naturally, the majority of calls came from Combs.
A.B. Combs Elementary School sits a few hundred feet from the site of the bridge. School was cancelled on Feb. 10 because of wintry weather, but a few faculty members were inside the building when the explosion occurred. Representatives of A.B. Combs said the whole school shook when the blast happened, but after thorough examination, no damage was discovered.
According to local resident Bobby Deaton, the situation was far more intense at his house than it was at the school.
“It shook my place so hard it’s not level anymore and my back wall dropped down too,” said Deaton, “They didn’t warn us about the blasting.”
Traffic on Hwy. 80 through Combs was stopped at the time of the demolition. Part of the old bridge still stood after the explosion because it stretches over railroad tracks. Therefore, that section of the bridge will have to be taken down in a less convenient way. Both the Combs and Glomar communities of Perry County have received new bridges recently. State Representative Fitz Steele says road improvements are a key step in revitalizing Southeast Kentucky and he hopes these new bridges are merely the beginning.
Although a fragment of Combs’s historic bridge can still be seen, in a short matter of time only the memory will remain. This realization has sparked nostalgia within the hearts of some of the locals.
“I lived next to this bridge for years,” said Melissa Herald, “My name was spray painted all over it. I walked a million miles across it. So this is kind of sad to me.”
Sam Neace can be reached at 606-629-3243 or on Twitter @HazardHerald.