Ohio River Bridges


Of the dozen bridges that span the Ohio at various points from Cairo to Pittsburgh, five are at Cincinnati, and these are the most important five.  Three of them at the time of their construction eclipsed all previous achievements in bridge building, and their combined cost in money, labor, brains, and life make up a gigantic total that Cincinnatians seemed to have lost sight of when estimating the enterprise of the Queen City.  Too frequently have these gigantic marvels of stone, iron and steel been regarded as mere matters of course, and many will be surprised to learn that nowhere today are there so many large structures in one vicinity.  New York has the Brooklyn bridge, and St. Louis the Eads, but each stands alone, and not until New York's new bridge is completed will any city be able to boast of two such structures.

Suspension  Bridge

 The bridges, the five crossing the Ohio and four crossing the Licking, did not suddenly spring into existence.  Covington became a town in 1815, and citizens who had to regularly pay 25 cents to be ferried back and forth in a skiff, or a dollar to have a half team and wagon taken across on a flatboat soon began to talk about a bridge.  They had little conception of how much that meant, but they talked and talked for 25 years, and succeeded in getting not the bridge, but very good ferry facilities.  Several times charters were granted by the Kentucky Legislature to companies of men who thought they could bridge one or the other of the two streams, and these men seemed to regard the Ohio project as lightly as the Licking.  About 1840 the agitation began to ripen into something definite, and on September 1, 1846, Engineer John. A. Roebling unfolded plans for the Suspension bridge.  He had proven ability as a practical and progressive engineer, but great undertakings moved more slowly in those days, and Roebling's plans and proposition were held in abeyance almost exactly ten years.

 Perhaps it might not have slumbered so long had not a disastrous experiment close at hand somewhat shaken the faith of the men who were expected to be the financial mainstays of the proposed Ohio River enterprise.  The bridge, or rather a conglomerate arrangement of wire cables and trusses alleged to be a bridge was built across the Licking, on the site of the one now running from Fourth Street in Covington, to Newport.  This was opened to traffic January 16, 1854, and two weeks later, under the immense strain of two men on horseback and a drove of 19 cattle, the structure fell a complete wreck, with the exception of the piers, which support the present bridge.  One of the men, Henry Kleycamp, who fell with this bridge, still lives in Newport.

 The bridge, of course, was rebuilt, but it took some time for the projectors of the Suspension to recover from the discouragement sufficiently to accept Roebling's plan and begin work.  This, however, they did, and in September, 1856, work was begun on the Cincinnati pier.  This was the point of beginning, because the land owners on the Ohio side had grave doubts about the possibility of completion, and, Missouri-like, demanded "to be shown." For a year the work progressed, not without great setbacks, for it was only after several unsuccessful experiments that effective means were hit upon to keep the water out of the excavations for the foundations.  When this was done, the work continued to a height of 45 feet.  A year had passed.  Sectionalism that finally brought the Civil War caused a financial depression that distressed the bridge company, and the work was discontinued, leaving the pier a monument of an abandoned enterprise, which, costly as it might have been to the stockholders, was smiled at by the disinterested until public improvements of all kinds were paralyzed and forgotten in the grim war times that followed.

 But suddenly, and almost without warning, the first Ohio River bridge at Cincinnati came into being - a bridge that, unfortunately for transient travelers, disappeared almost as soon as it came.  This was a "pontoon" of anchored coal barges, built by a detachment of the Union Army in June 1862, to allow the passage into Kentucky on the way to the front.  Pictures of this bridge from the Covington side show the uncompleted pier of the Suspension bridge - a lonely, forsaken-looking object that must have made the uninitiated observer wonder what it was for.

 There was one man, however, who had faith in the Suspension bridge.  He had been reared in poverty, and was comparatively a poor man when the work was begun, but his shrewd business sense was recognized by the projectors, and he had a place on the Board of Directors.  The war made steamboat business unusually active and profitable, and Amos Shinkle was in the business from the beginning of the boom until his death.  Thus after the original work was begun, he made the fortune that enabled its completion.  The work was renewed in 1863, and was the only public improvement carried on by private capital during that year.  Amos Shinkle had secured capital by pledging to investors to reimburse them for any loss, if loss there were, and for four years it was this pledge that sustained the company in an undertaking that required the expenditure of $1,800,000 before it received a cent of revenue. The bridge was completed sufficiently to allow foot passengers to cross on December 1, 1866, and on the following Sunday nearly 100,000 curious persons took their first trip on it.  A month later it was thrown open for wagon traffic, and before long it was manifest that its revenue would fully compensate the men who had backed their faith and persevered in their purpose.

It has continued to this day to be one of the best dividend earning enterprises in this part of the country.  Its success established the engineering reputation of John A. Roebling and made possible the great Brooklyn bridge, a copy – an enlarged copy it is true but still a copy – of “Amie” Shinkle’s bridge.

 The L&N Railroad Bridge   [a.k.a. Purple  People  Bridge]

 The next bridge, and the first railroad bridge across the Ohio was that of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad Company from here to Newport.  It was an iron truss structure, with wagon and foot passageways, as well as railroad tracks.  It was originally planned as a low draw bridge to be but a short distance above the mean stage of the Ohio River.  The contract had been let under specifications to this effect and some of the iron trusses had been made.  At this juncture the War Department of the United States interfered and demanded that it be as high above the water as was the Suspension.  The department gave the company the consent to enter action in the Federal courts to show cause for the United States paying the loss occasioned by the change of plans.  The suit was brought, but the Supreme Court held that the Government was in no way liable, since it was a sovereign power and could order any rearrangement at any time on public ways, such as the Ohio River.  It is fortunate that the change was made, for a low draw would have been a serious drawback to river traffic, besides its own danger during floods that would have completely inundated it.  The bridge was completed in 1872, and on March 9 of that year, the first locomotive passed from Ohio to Kentucky, stubbornly refusing to verify the predictions of several local sages that it would have the same effect that the drove of cattle and horsemen did on the Licking Bridge 18 years before.

 This bridge, however, did in time prove inadequate to the demand, and from 1895 to 1897 the piers were enlarged and an entirely new and more massive set of trusses replaced the old.  It is the only bridge running out of Cincinnati that provides for all kinds of traffic – Pedestrian, wagon, street car and railroad.

 The original bridge and the reconstruction cost over $3,000.000.  The same company also bridged the Licking at Latonia, but provided it with no foot or wagon ways. 

Southern Railroad Bridge

 The Southern Railroad bridge between this city and Ludlow was the next large undertaking.  It is of the truss type and though nearly 100 feet above the average stage of the river the span next to the Kentucky shore is balanced on a round pier and equipped with all the machinery for its turning to allow for passage of boats in high water.  This provision though a wise one, has never been put to extensive use, and it has been many years since Cincinnati’s only draw bridge has been drawn. It required two years and nearly $1,000,000 to build this bridge, and it was completed in 1877.  It was constructed under the Engineer in Chief of the railroad, Mr. G. Bouscaren, now in charge of Cincinnati’s new waterworks. 

Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad Bridge

 The Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad double track steel truss bridge was one of the gigantic engineering feats of the time, and the most expensive built here.  Its construction was attended with difficulties that might well have balked a less determined man than Collis P. Huntington, then President and main stockholder of the railroad.  It was built to give the C. &. O extension from Huntington, W. Va., entrance into Cincinnati.

 When the railroad magnate was in the greatest hurry to get the extension completed a rise in the river placed the trussing of the big center span in jeopardy.  The work was hastened and attempts made to avert damage with a large “boom” of piles to lessen the current.  But in spite of all effort the trussing collapsed.  Fortunately, this was not unexpected, and happened on Sunday when the bridge was deserted.  Mr. Huntington was informed and he at once wired back to “reverse the span and continue work,” proposing to the bridge company to bear the loss occasioned by the fall if the bridge was completed in the original time limit.  At least, this assertion has been made by some who were or should have been ‘in the know” of affairs.  The work was completed in time in 1889, and at that time its center span, early 500 feet long, was the largest of its kind then in existence, both in length and proportion.  The bridge is estimated to have cost $3,500,000.  This railroad also bridged the Licking with a double track truss bridge, without wagon or foot ways, but it is across this that Covington gets her water through a pipe main from her reservoirs, at Ft. Thomas. 

The Central Bridge

 The Central Bridge to Newport is the most recent crossing the Ohio.  Like the Suspension, it was delayed in construction. But after work was begun in earnest, it was rapidly constructed, partly because, being of the cantilever type, the expensive and very slow trussling of the center span was unnecessary, as the superstructure balanced on the two end piers and was built out from each side until it met in the middle.  It is the only bridge of its type in this part of the country, and its construction cost $1,600,000.  It was opened on September 1, 1891.  Engineer Ferris, of Ferris Wheel fame, designed and superintended the construction, and much of its success was due to the efforts of Mayor R. W. Nelson, of Newport.

 Including the reconstruction of the Suspension bridge, one of the most remarkable and successful bridge undertakings, and too recent to require much comment, Ohio River bridges at this point have cost $11,000,000 for construction alone, without allowing for cost of maintenance and minor repairs, such as the frequent painting, which is necessary to prevent rust, and the mending of roadways.  To say that they have earned this many times over would be no exaggeration, for besides the wagon and foot passage tolls, the railroads get a heavy toll for all cars of merchandise, and the street railway yields the other bridges a handsome revenue.  Even the penny sidewalks on the Southern bridge, built many years after the structure was completed, gives a good return for the comparatively small expense it occasioned.

 As bridges have increased in number the prosperous ferry business declined, and one by one the boats have discontinued to run, until now bridges carry all the traffic. 

The Licking

 The Licking has not proved to be the easiest of rivers to bridge.  The bridge that fell in 1854 was replaced by another suspension, which has given place to a third, a steel truss, that is owned an operated by the two cities.

 The greatest loss of life occasioned in bridge building was caused by the fall of trussing of the bridge between Twelfth street in Covington and Eleventh street in Newport.  Without warning, the under support gave way just before noon on June 16, 1892, and the entire working force fell into the river among the crushing timbers.  Few escaped unhurt and about 40 workers were killed.  In the construction of the other bridges, men were hurt and killed, but not in greater proportion than upon similar work in all parts of the world, for there is no way of making bridge building safe, or inexpensive, and life, as well as brains, labor, and money must be estimated in the colossal expense account.


from the Cincinnati Enquirer of August 25, 1901