The rock that hurtled through D.C. Harrier's Osoge Road house in May 1972 came not from outer space but from dynamiting during construction of the Powhite Parkway. A Times-Dispatch photo presented an annoyed Harrier standing in his living room holding the 5-pound hunk of stone.
In January 1971, a South Side couple had tried suing to stop construction. Loudspeaker trucks sent by the Richmond Metropolitan Authority warned residents about impending blasts.
But Harrier couldn't protect his house from flying debris. He observed, "It was quite an experience. It sort of makes you wonder when you're going to be safe."
RMA workers placed a plastic sheet over the hole in Harrier's roof. A neighbor, John Hulquist, also complained of the blasting, saying, "This is an everyday thing, and, of course, each time it happens, they say it won't happen again."
This was but one incident during the Powhite's often-turbulent creation story. The parkway generated arguments between conservationists and road-builders, anti-toll lobbyists and fiscal conservatives, and regional administrators and RMA board members.
Even linguists jumped into the fray. Conflicts about the proper way to spell and say Powhite (Po-white or Pow-hite) have flared since the 17th century. Back then, the reference was to the "Powhite Indians" — a possible corruption of the familiar Powhatan — and the Chesterfield creek.
Retired schoolteacher and researcher Charles Schaefer told then T-D columnist Ray McAllister in 2001 that there's no certainty of the Powhite pronunciation. "Po-ite" is the closest guess.
The first $50 million, 3.4-mile phase of the highway, wending from Cary Street to the Chippenham Parkway, opened on the bright, cold noon of Jan. 24, 1973, the culmination of plans first considered back in the late 1940s.
The next day in the Times-Dispatch, a picture told the Powhite story: Phil J. Bagley Jr., a former city mayor, stood beaming next to the ebullient Henry Gonner, director of the Central Richmond Association, wearing early 20th-century motoring togs to crank one of his antique cars for an inaugural drive across "the new expressway bridge at Willow Oaks."
The News Leader reported the first paying customer on the Powhite as traveling north from the Chippenham Parkway to the Richmond Technical Center. He was William Johnson, 16, of 1900 Texas Ave., with passenger Michael Williams.
Several drivers erroneously expected change in the exact-change lanes; at least two of the toll machines didn't register the money tossed at them, and the flashing lights and bells startled motorists. About 70 vehicles crossed the bridge during its first hour of operation, while more than 800 vehicles traversed the Boulevard Bridge during the same time.
Boulevard Bridge attendant C.C. Jones Jr. told the News Leader that he didn't think his span would suffer a 30 percent or 40 percent decline in traffic, as experts predicted.
He declared, "It'll never happen. I can't believe people are going to pay 20 cents when they can ride this one for less."
Though 6,000 vehicles used the Powhite that first day, the number of cars on the new span didn't eclipse Boulevard Bridge traffic until 1976, according to RMA records; that year, 9.2 million vehicles drove the Powhite while 6.2 million chose the Boulevard.
The day following the Powhite's opening came the Times-Dispatch headline, "Chesterfield Seeks Parkway Extension," and the county supervisors requesting the RMA to study an extension of the Powhite from Chippenham to U.S. Route 60 (Midlothian Turnpike) and "ultimately to proposed State Route 288." At first the RMA wasn't interested in the project, but by late January 1973, it was "anxious" to push the Powhite deeper into Chesterfield.
Around 2 p.m on Sept. 30, 1988, Gov. Gerald L. Baliles leaned from his limo to drop the first 75 cents inaugurating the $100 million, 12 1/2-mile tolled extension, connecting the expressway to Old Hundred Road, a project financed by bonds through the Virginia Department of Transportation. Another proposed extension to Hull Street Road still awaits funding, although tolls jumped from 50 cents to 70 cents in 2008.