EASTON -- Tucked away in the back of the National Trust's Historic Preservation magazine among historic houses for sale, a piece of Maryland's history also is on the market: the bridge to Tilghman Island.
If it's not exactly the Neiman-Marcus one-of-a-kind Christmas gift, it's close enough. Who would buy a "heel trunnion rolling lift bridge with a counterweight above the roadway, built in 1934"?
So far, no one.
But the State Highway Administration, which placed the ad, as well as others elsewhere, hasn't given up on selling the steel bridge that carries cars and trucks on Route 33 across Knapps Narrows.
"It's being marketed nationwide," said Bruce Grey, assistant division chief of the SHA project planning division. "We're seeking people that are interested. Our goal, because [the bridge] is historic, is to preserve the structure."
The bridge, designated number 20001 (counties are assigned numbers and Talbot is No. 20; bridges are numbered arbitrarily after that) still works, and officials are sure it's safe, at least for now. But the pilings underneath it are wood and are showing their age. So the state is trying to sell the bridge.
It's not the first such foray into bridge sales for the state, although none of the three bridges the state has offered previously was sold.
The Tilghman bridge is not on the National Registry of Historic Places, but it still meets the federal definition of historic because it is Maryland's only overhead counterweight bridge. Most bridges have the counterweight under the span, Mr. Grey said. "Heel trunnion" refers to the lift mechanism, and the fact that it is at the rear of the bridge, not the front.
"It's in a unique setting with the waterways," Mr. Grey said. "It played an important role in the development of Tilghman Island."
And although no one has ever bought a used bridge from the state, several groups have accepted donated bridges, said Beth Hannold of the State Historic Preservation Office. Her office is charged with seeing that the state complies with federal Department of Transportation regulations requiring the state to try to keep the bridge intact at a new location.
A Hagerstown bridge now in storage will be part of a golf course being built in the Frederick area, for example. Ms. Hannold said other bridges have found new life on biking trails and in county parks.
Only those with deep pockets need inquire about the Tilghman Island bridge.
Ralph Manna, senior project team leader of the Office of Bridge Development in the State Highway Administration, estimated the cost of moving the bridge -- which weighs 125 tons -- at $60,000 to $70,000. The state will help the right buyer, he said, although the assistance cannot exceed the estimated $40,000 cost of demolition.
And prospective buyers should consider other bits of fine print.
Because the Tilghman Island bridge's replacement will not be built until next year (the bidding process on that contract is slated for the end of the month), a buyer cannot take possession until then.
A buyer would get a piece of the past, but he or she also would need to look to the future. The ad says: "A qualified recipient is sought to enter into an agreement to (A) maintain the bridge and its features that give it historical significance; and (B) assume all future legal and financial responsibility for the bridge, which may include an agreement to hold the State Highway Administration harmless in any liability action."
Caveat emptor and then some.
The Tilghman bridge is one of the busiest on the East Coast, Mr. Manna said. Bridge tenders are on duty around the clock.
Because it's so low -- only 8 feet of clearance above the water -- the bridge has to be raised for almost every boat on the water, not just sailboats. The bridge was built low because everything around it on Tilghman Island was low, said Mr. Grey, and the higher a bridge, the more space is required on land for it.
The new bridge will be 12 feet off the water, which Mr. Manna estimates will allow 90 percent to 95 percent of the working boat traffic to pass without having the bridge open.
What if no one buys the old bridge?
"If we can't sell the bridge, what we'll do is dismantle it," Mr. Grey said.
"Then we offer any parts they might want to the Maryland Historical Trust," he said. If the trust doesn't want any of it, the parts will go to salvage, as has happened with two of the three bridges previously offered for sale.
Mr. Grey has a dream, a vision for the future that encompasses all the bridges the state is required by law to offer for a sale.
"A bridge park. Somebody proposed it as a joke, but . . . people go to see more ridiculous things. It could be a really neat bit of private enterprise."