skip to main content
Environmental Review Toolkit
Successes in Stewardship
Monthly Newsletter
June 2006

Routine Bridge Replacement Becomes Award-Winning Historic Preservation Project in South Carolina

Map illustration of archaeological survey which informed the replacement of South Carolina's Broad River Bridge.
When SCDOT began planning the replacement of the Broad River Bridge, engineers proposed a site south of the existing bridge to avoid the supposed location of the historic Fish Dam Ford Battlefield. However, the detailed archaeological survey revealed that the battlefield was actually south of the bridge, marked on the map by the square ABDC. Creative teamwork enabled SCDOT, FHWA, and their partners to develop the bridge, preserve the battlefield, and save taxpayer money. The team received an award for their innovative preservation efforts.

In the 1780s, the Great Wagon Road and the Broad River were major transportation routes in South Carolina, and their intersection provided a strategic location during the Revolutionary War. Today, South Carolina Route 72 (SC 72) is a major route through this area, and the Broad River Bridge along SC 72 is the only river crossing for 30 miles. When the bridge was deemed functionally deficient, a new bridge site was selected to avoid nearby historic sites, such as the remains of a Revolutionary War battlefield and a prehistoric fish weir. Despite the siting issues, the job seemed fairly routine until detailed investigations revealed an ironic environmental challenge: the actual battlefield was found, intact, within the carefully chosen bridge replacement site. The location of the Fish Dam Ford Battlefield had been lost over time, as an upstream ferry had diverted the road away from the fording site and the battlefield.

The South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) was faced with the question of how to replace an ailing bridge without disrupting the long-lost site full of valuable artifacts. Through innovative thinking and creative teamwork, SCDOT, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), and their partners managed to site the bridge while preserving the Fish Dam Ford Battlefield site.

Initial Site Selection Avoids Known Historic Sites

The original bridge could not be closed, removed, and replaced on the original site because it is the only crossing of the Broad River for 30 miles. As a result, a new location for the bridge had to be located close to the original site. Site selection was not an easy task because the original SC 72 bridge was located near many historic sites along the Broad River. Upstream from the original bridge site is a prehistoric "fish weir" where Native Americans dammed the river with rocks to catch fish. The fish weir was also an important landmark during Colonial times and the Revolutionary War, serving as a meeting place and river crossing. Also upstream were the supposed remains of the Fish Dam Ford Battlefield, the site of an important American victory over the British in November 1780. SCDOT began investigating a proposed site for the new bridge directly downstream from the supposed original bridge site.

Historic Battlefield Found

The archeological investigations performed as part of the environmental documentation found a portion of the Fish Dam Ford Battlefield under several feet of alluvial sediment on the proposed new bridge site. The other portion of the battle site was located on the hill overlooking the Broad River floodplain. Although previous records had placed the battlefield site upstream of the SC 72 Bridge along the Broad River, on the site of an old quarry, new evidence had recently emerged — an old map of the battlefield site sketched by Colonel Richard Winn of the American forces. Colonel Winn fought in the Battle of Fish Dam Ford and his map correlated to the modern terrain downstream from the bridge.

This discovery presented a new challenge for SCDOT. Although the bridge would be designed to minimize impacts to the new battlefield site, adverse impacts to the site could not be avoided. The proposed bridge could totally destroy the battlefield. SCDOT consulted with many agencies to create a new plan of action for the site. They coordinated with FHWA, and the South Carolina Department of Archives and History to create a mitigation plan for the site. The first mitigation plan called for acquiring 30 acres for mitigation and excavating the site for data recovery. Excavating the site would be very costly and time consuming, because more than 7 feet of alluvial river sediment had accumulated over the past 250 years.

Battlefield Artifacts

What do archeologists and historians find on historic battlefields? To the naked eye, the Fish Dam Ford Battlefield may look like an overgrown forest. However, archeologists unearthed a number of different artifacts from the site and were able to identify not only the battlefield, but also the campsite of the American soldiers. Some of the artifacts found in the battle areas include dropped (unfired) musket balls in the campgrounds and rifle pit areas, and spent (fired) musket balls and pewter "USA" buttons.

Alternative Mitigation Plan Saves Battlefield and Money

An alternative suggestion to the mitigation plan was made: purchase the entire site outright along with a buffer for additional site protection. The State Historic Preservation Office approved this idea because it would give the battlefield permanent protection. SCDOT and FHWA also favored this idea because it would be less costly than conducting invasive excavations in deep soil. The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DNR) agreed to manage the land through its Heritage Preservation Program, and the US Forest Service agreed to monitor activity on the site, as it is adjacent to Sumter National Forest.

The 143-acre site was purchased from a private citizen and the land was turned over to DNR in June 2005. Soon after, project plans began on the new bridge, which will be located directly downstream from the old bridge and next to the battlefield site (see figure). This creative partnering effort between several State and Federal agencies allowed SCDOT and FHWA to exceed all obligations under the Section 106 of National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, while preserving the land and rebuilding the bridge.

The decision to purchase the battlefield site was a huge success. The excavation of the site would have cost more than $2 million dollars and would have significantly extended the project schedule, impacting motorists on SC 72. Purchasing and preserving the site resulted in savings of over $1 million. "This is a win for the taxpayers and citizens of South Carolina," remarked SCDOT Executive Director Elizabeth Mabry. "It [purchasing the battlefield] will not only result in securing the historic land for future generations and allow the bridge replacement to be completed much sooner, it will also save taxpayers approximately $1.7 million."

SCDOT's Efforts Recognized by South Carolina

For preserving a piece of South Carolina and American history, SCDOT and the South Carolina Division of FHWA received the 2006 South Carolina Historic Preservation Honor award. This success story was the combined effort of not only SCDOT and FHWA, but of six agencies in South Carolina, and illustrates the positive effects of teamwork and innovative thinking when addressing transportation and historic preservation.

Look What's New!

An exciting new NHI course has been developed in partnership with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and representatives from State departments of transportation. "Beyond Compliance: Historic Preservation in Transportation Project Development" will address the revised regulations for implementing Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.

Contact Information

J. Shane Belcher
Environmental Coordinator
Federal Highway Administration
1835 Assembly Street
Suite 1270
Columbia, SC 29201
Phone: 803-253-3187
Wayne D Roberts
Chief Archeologist
South Carolina Department of Transportation
South Carolina DOTB 955 Park Street
P.O. Box 191
Columbia, SC 29202-0191
Phone: 803-737-1645