Revisiting a welcome treasure off the beaten path

BY RANDALL RIGSBEE, News + Record Staff
Posted 3/15/19

On a late afternoon ride home after visiting family in Durham a few of weeks ago, we decided to delay the homecoming for a side trip.

Taking our time, we turned left off of US 15-501 before …

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Revisiting a welcome treasure off the beaten path

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On a late afternoon ride home after visiting family in Durham a few of weeks ago, we decided to delay the homecoming for a side trip.

Taking our time, we turned left off of US 15-501 before crossing the Haw River to enjoy a slow drive through Bynum.

It had been a while since I’d taken that ride, normally focused on destinations further south. But I wanted to see an old acquaintance there, one I’d first encountered in the mid-90s when I was new to working in Chatham County.

At the time, with much of Chatham County still new to me, Bynum was an uncharted wonder.

The old mill village wasn’t far from my professional headquarters, the office of The Chatham Record in Pittsboro, so it was quick and easy to drive to, and located there was a nifty, old-school general store still in operation at the time.

In the summer of 1996, Bynum was the perfect place to escape the office for a few minutes once in a while. And I’ve always been a sucker for rivers, so Bynum, with the Haw River running through it, became my go-to quiet place to escape.

Back then, you could still drive across the one-lane bridge just to the west of the now four-lane 15-501 bridge (two lanes at that time, with the four-laning of 15-501 still a few years down the road) that crosses the Haw River.

A few years later, the old Bynum Bridge — built by the North Carolina State Highway Commission in 1922, according to the 97-year-old plaque still affixed to the bridge’s south side — was closed to traffic but, fortunately, kept open for foot traffic.

So after motoring through Bynum recently and enjoying the Where’s Waldo-like experience of spying native son folk artist Clyde Jones’ unmistakable “critters” here, there and everywhere, we parked at the north side of the bridge for a stroll.

I hadn’t set foot on that bridge in, like I said, years and the experience was like revisiting an old friend.

With sunlight fading, from any number of angles the scenery could have been a painting and, as we do with cell phones these days, I took a few photographs of the beautiful sights to preserve the moment.

The pedestrian bridge was adorned with more graffiti than I’d remembered, but even graffiti holds a certain appeal in the right environment, and the old bridge seems an appropriate place for it, the work of people who love the bridge and wish to make it more artful, not deface it.

Nearby the bridge was something else that caught my eye: dangling from a power line, was a mysterious pair of shoes, laces tied, thrown and dangling from the power line.

You see this phenomenon — shoe laces tied and shoes dangling from a power line — from time to time. What statements they make, what purposes they serve, what reason they were thrown away to begin with, I’m not sure. But in the context of Bynum’s surrounding beauty and its venerable bridge, still bearing traffic – if only of the foot variety now – after all these years, the dangling shoes seemed to say, if I let my imagination take me there, “Welcome,” or maybe “Safe travels.”

Or maybe I was thinking such thoughts simply because it was a perfect ending to a perfect day, and I was feeling perfectly positive.

At any rate, it was a perfect decision to turn off the main highway, take a detour to an old, valued place, and revisit the 97-year-old bridge, which is just one of the things that make this somewhat tucked-away part of Chatham County such a treasure.

And such an inspiration, making me want to explore more off-the-beaten-path places to discover whatever treasures await.


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