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Citizens Of Nitro, W.V., Watch Town's Bridge Blow Up

The last portion of the Dick Henderson Memorial Bridge, which once connected the West Virginia towns of Nitro and St. Albans, was demolished this morning. Hundreds of people gathered to view the controlled explosion Friday morning.

Parts of the 79-year-old truss bridge spanning the Kanawha River had previously been cut away. The remaining portions were deemed too heavy and out of the reach to handle with cranes, so explosives were used to finish the job.

"Nitro Mayor Dave Casebolt said more than 400 local schoolchildren signed up for a chance at blowing the bridge," reports Rusty Marks of The Charleston Gazette, which also posted a video of the event, as well as last week's destruction of the St. Albans portion of the bridge.

As local TV WSAZ reports, the control switch for Friday's demolition was operated by Nitro Elementary student Jessica Taylor, 9, and World War II veteran Thomas Walls, 92, whose nickname is "Frosty."

From the WSAZ story:

"'I did it, I did it,' Taylor said as the bridge came down."

"Walls says he has a lot of memories with this bridge."

"'I got a kick out of it. It's actually nothing new to me. I was in a [bomber] in the Air Force. It brings back old memories,' Walls said."

As you might guess from the name, Nitro is no stranger to explosives, either. The town was established during World War I, part of the U.S. War Department's strategy for establishing new supplies of gun powder.

An article at the city's website explains how it got the name:

"The name Nitro was selected by the Ordnance Department. It was derived from the chemical term Nitro-Cellulose, which identified the type of gunpowder that was to be produced. Another name seriously considered at the time was "Redwop" which was obtained from the reverse spelling of the word powder."

While the steel portions of the truss bridge were blown apart Friday, the concrete pilings were left untouched. They'll be the basis for a new bridge, which the West Virginia Department of Transportation hopes to have operational by November.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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