By Becky Strode
Looking for a trail ride near Richmond, Virginia? Check out the High Bridge Trail!
The High Bridge Trail is a 31-mile long rail-trail that offers both gentle cycling and Civil War history. The trail surface is crushed-limestone and was in excellent condition when I rode it in the summer of 2014. The trail runs through the center of Farmville, Virginia, which has built a nice park with restrooms and ample parking at the trail access point.
Farmville is located at roughly the halfway point on the trail, so you can head either east or west out of town. But the high point of the trail is the High Bridge itself, located about 5 miles east of Farmville.
At over 2400 feet long (almost a half-mile!) and 125 feet above the Appomattox River, the High Bridge provides great views. The South Side Railroad built the bridge in 1854 to enable the railroad to run between Petersburg and Lynchburg. The bridge originally included railroad tracks on the top and a wagon road underneath. At the time of its construction, the South Side Railroad’s chief engineer said, “There
are longer bridges in the world, and there are higher bridges, but taking into account both length and height, this may be the largest bridge in the world.” Even today it is one of the longest bridges in the United States.
The High Bridge played a role in the final days of the Civil War. On April 6, 1865, Union troops tried to burn the bridge to cut off the path of retreat for General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia as it fled from Petersburg but abandoned the effort when confronted by Confederate cavalry.
The next day, Lee’s army crossed the bridge, then tried to burn it behind them to prevent General Grant’s forces from giving chase. As Lee’s men were setting fire to the railroad bridge, Union forces managed to cross on the wagon road underneath. The Confederates fled; the Union soldiers pursued.
Grant’s forces caught up with Lee’s army later that day at nearby Cumberland Church, where the two sides fought in one of the final engagements of the Civil War.
Two days later--April 9, 1865—Lee surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse. Today, the High Bridge is on the National Register of Historic Places and is a Virginia Historic Landmark.
If you cycle the High Bridge Trail, you may want to take the opportunity while you are in the area to visit Appomattox Courthouse. Farmville has motel accommodations.
Camping is available about 30 miles north of Farmville at Bear Creek Lake State Park. This lovely park offers miles of hiking trails, fishing, and canoeing opportunities.