Burning Bridge: Riverfest celebrates history along the Susquehanna

Anthony Maenza
York Dispatch

A big dose of history along with a boatload of activities are in store later this month at Riverfest, a celebration of the towns along the Susquehanna River and their impact on the Civil War.

Hosted by the Susquehanna National Heritage Area and Rivertownes PA, the June 24-26 celebration commemorates the 1863 burning of what was then said to be the world’s longest covered bridge, a move that blocked Confederate troops from advancing from York County to Lancaster. 

There will be a number of heritage walks, talks and trolley tours to tell the story of the burning of the bridge as told by the Columbia Historic Preservation Society, Historic Wrightsville Inc., and Friends of Mount Bethel Cemetery. 

There is pretty much no other way to cover the fires lit on three of the piers of the old Columbia-Wrightsville bridge during the 17th annual Riverfest than from the air.
John A. Pavoncello photo

There are also a self-guided tour and digital adventure from Columbia Crossing. Visitors can also explore more than 100 miles of trails, 10 scenic overlooks, and more than two dozen heritage sites in the Susquehanna National Heritage Area. 

Among the events on Friday, June 24, are historic tours of the Musselman-Vesta Iron Furnace Center from noon to 3 p.m. in Marietta and a visit by the Budweiser Clydesdales in Wrightsville.  

On Saturday, June 25, the Bridge Burner Challenge Run and Paddle Race takes place from 9 to 11 a.m. at Columbia River Park. The multi-sport race has runners collect "dynamite" then paddle it across the river. Spectators can watch the paddle section from Columbia River Park. 

More:Four arrested after armed robbery at Turkey Hill in West York

More:West York Borough Police seek suspect in drug-related shooting

River Recreation Expo will be from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday at Columbia River Park. Over 20 outfitters, organizations and river businesses will be on hand to talk about the river’s history and health. 

There will also be lectures on Colonel Frick and his defense of Wrightsville and Columbia at noon at Columbia Crossing and the Confederate movements that led to the Battle of Gettysburg at the Columbia Crossing River Trails Center at 2 p.m. Saturday.

On Sunday, June 26, Civil War reenactors of the 45th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Company K will be on hand from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Wrightsville Commons Park. Geologist Jeri Jones will explore river geology starting at noon at Columbia Crossing. 

Also on Sunday, the Susquehanna NHA and Shank’s Mare Outfitters will lead on-the-water tours of the historic bridge piers from 1 to 5 p.m. Cost is $10 per person and participants must be 12 and older. Those 12 to 17 must be accompanied by an adult. 

Patrons can visit the Burning of the Bridge Diorama from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday. Managed by Historic Wrightsville organization, the diorama of Wrightsville in 1863 will teach visitors about the historic events of June 1863. There will be a lecture from 4 to 5 p.m. at John Wright Restaurant by York County historian Jim McClure.  

From 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday, there will be music at the John Wright Restaurant. Bring a lawn chair or blanket to enjoy The Part-Time Managers playing classic folk and Americana music. During their intermission, Ridiculous Nicholas will light up the stage with a fire juggling show. 

Riverfest will conclude with the Lighting of the Bridge Piers at 9 p.m. Sunday at John Wright Restaurant. In commemoration of the acts of June 28, 1863, three historic bridge piers will be lit ablaze. As the fires are lit, Historic Wrightsville will share the story of the burning of the bridge. 

For more information, go to riverfestpa.com.

— Reach Anthony Maenza at amaenza@yorkdispatch.com or @atmaenza on Twitter. 

>> Please consider subscribing to support local journalism.