Mystery Bridge 13: A bridge named after a politician

Photo courtesy of Nathan Holth

 

This mystery bridge article starts off with a pop quiz- three questions to be exact:

1. What bridges do you know that are named after a politician?

2. Which was the very first bridge that was named after a politician?

3. Who was Henry Clay?

It has become a trend in the last decade to name new bridges after renowned politicians either on a local or a national level, while questioning the credibility of these politicians because of patchy records that dismayed the public and thus forcing many to question the validity of the named bridges. The first name that comes to mind is Christopher ‘Kit’ Bond, former Senator and Two-time governor of Missouri who was scrutinized for his anti-environment and anti-homosexual and multiple marriage policies and was accused of stealing moon rocks from the Apollo 17 mission, but was lauded for his free trade agreements producing jobs for Missouri. There are two Missouri River bridges named after him: one in Kansas City (open in 2010) and the other in Hermann (open in 2007). Here, one has to ask whether naming more than one structure after a politicians that was disliked by many was really necessary. But that is for Missourians to decide.

But this mystery bridge, located in Kentucky, was named after another famous politician; this one more colorful and can be found in most US History books. Henry Clay was the voice for the state of Kentucky for 41 years, serving as Senator, House Representative, Speaker of the House (on three separate occasions) and Secretary of State under President John Quincy Adams. He was the presidential candidate for the Whig Party, one of three parties he was associated with during his political career, during the 1844 elections, which he lost to James Polk. He was one of the war hawks, who voted in favor of war with the British Empire, leading to the War of 1812, and later favored to settle the northern border dispute with Canada (which was part of the Empire). Furthermore, he favored the emancipation of slaves and worked to establish a border between North and South, resulting in the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and Compromise of 1850, yet he opposed the annexation of states like Texas, for it would have provoked a major debate over slavery as well as war with Mexico, which occurred during the years 1846-48.  Together with Daniel Webster and John Calhoun, the they became the three musketeers and represented the interests of at least the northern half of the US, fostering the development of industry and infrastructure as well as freedom for minorities.

There are many institutions and buildings throughout the US and other places that have been named after him, including the Clay Dormitory at Transylvania University, and an educational institution in Venezuela, as well as streets, counties and even towns bearing the name Clay or Ashland for his estate, which his surviving sons inherited after his death in 1852. But it is unknown how many bridges were or are named after this famous politicians, except this bridge in Kentucky, as depicted in a black and white photo submitted by Nathan Holth. According to the description, the bridge was named after Henry Clay, yet it is located in a town bearing the name Valley. According to maps provided by Google, there is no town or city in Kentucky with just the name Valley, but there are two communities that carry the name Valley: Renfro Valley and Peewee Valley. Renfro Valley is located on the eastern end of Lake Linville north of Mount Vernon, and is connected by US Hwy. 25 and Interstate Highway 75 linking Lexington and Knoxville, Tennessee. Peewee Valley is located northeast of Louisville.  Given the proximity of the Ohio River, the author would favor the bridge being located near Peewee Valley, for the community is located 10-15 kilometers from the major waterway. Yet, one has to look more closely at the bridge and its surroundings to see that the third variable is possible.

Close-up of the same bridge, zoomed in by the author.

The Bridge features two long Warren through truss spans with no vertical beams. Judging by the width of the river crossing, it would not fit the width of the Ohio River, which is between a half mile and one mile in many areas, including a width of a mile in Louisville. In order to fulfill the length of the bridge, one would need at least eight or nine more through truss spans similar to the 200-250 foot long truss spans the Henry Clay Bridge offers. Therefore, it is possible that a town bearing the name Valley may have existed between 70 and 130 years ago but died off because of economic reasons and competition from nearby communities.  Judging by the trusses seen in the picture, it appears that the bridge may have existed between 1880 and 1890, which would fit the time of the existence of the town of Valley. As wide as the two-span bridge was, it seems that it was a wagon bridge used to carry horse and buggy and later cars across this river.

So despite the fact that a Henry Clay Bridge did exist in Kentucky, the question remains where exactly was this bridge located? Was it located in or near Renfro Valley over a segment of Linville Lake? Was it located near Peewee Valley, north of Louisville? Or was it located over another major valley in a small town that once existed, and if so, where?

There are two ways to send the information: one to Nathan Holth, who is doing some work on this bridge, the other here to the Chronicles. Both contact details are enclosed below. Once the mystery has been solved, the Chronicles will post the results in a posting of its own.  Happy History Hunting and read up on Henry Clay and his Three Musketeers of Capitol Hill, for their policies had an influence on how America is today.

Contact info:

Nathan Holth: http://www.historicbridges.org/contact/index.htm

Jason D. Smith at the Chronicles: flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com

 

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