In spite of the gloom and doom that we have seen with historic bridges lately, there is a glimmer of hope for some that did receive a new life. For the Big Four Bridge, spanning the Ohio River in Louisville, Kentucky, the bridge received a new lease in life after being abandoned for almost 45 years. Consisting of the cities of Chicago, Cleveland, Cincinnati and St. Louis, the Big Four Railroad owned the railroad bridge, consisting of six spans of steel through truss bridges, which the company abandoned in favor of progress. Jonathan Parrish, a fellow pontist who lives near Louisville, had the opportunity to visit the bridge when it was reopened to pedestrian traffic on 7th February of this year, and as guest columnist, is providing you with some background information on one of the relicts of Big Four’s past as well as some impressions of the bridge during its grand opening.
February 7th, 2013 Louisville, KY:
The bridge was built in 1893 for the Big Four, B&O, and C&O railroad as the main crossing over the Ohio River. In 1927, the Big Four bought out the interest owned by the C&O Railroad. Two years later, the Big four decided to move from a bridge with pin connections to one that is riveted and therefore, the current bridge was built around the old bridge so that railroad traffic could continue to use the bridge. One year later, the New York Central Railroad took over the Big Four and the bridge carried traffic for almost 40 more years, before it was finally closed to traffic.
After 1969 the approaches were scrapped and the main trusses were allowed to sit, the bridge became known as the bridge to nowhere due to the inability to access the bridge. But that of course has changed as close to 1,000 people were lined up that morning to at the bottom of the ramp for the soft opening of the Big Four Bridge. The grand opening will be this spring once the Jeffersonville approach is finished. After some speeches were finished by the mayors of both towns and the Lieutenant Governor of Kentucky, the noses of a railroad crossing started across the PA system. You could hear a steam engine and the bells from the crossing, and the opening was official when the railroad crossing gates were lifted. I could personally see no better way to open the bridge.
Closed since 1969 when the Penn Central Railroad decided to route traffic away from the structure, the bridge gained a new life when it reopened at 11am on February 7th as the center piece of waterfront park. This project has been years in the making and has been looked upon with great anticipation.
The youngest to the oldest made their way up to the bridge and started the little under 1 mile hike across to last truss. You could hear the grandparents their grandkids talking about the bridge when it was opened and all alike were amazed by the structure. As someone who has been following the opening of this bridge since 2007, I was not only relieved by its opening, but I was a like a child who had just walked in to a toy store. Later that evening I revisited the bridge figuring the hype would have died down, only to find the bridge was as busy as when I left 3 hours earlier. I have to congratulate the state of Kentucky and Indiana for getting together on this project and completing it. Along with the people who run waterfront park. The bridge is beautiful and looks to stand and carry people for the foreseeable future. If you happen to be in Louisville be sure to come check out the bridge it is worth every moment. The views are outstanding and the bridge will just blow your mind.
Author’s note: According to Parrish, the Indiana side of the bridge is scheduled to have a new approach ramp added in the near future and when completed, it will serve as a major thoroughfare for pedestrians and cyclists, connecting Louisville with the neighboring communities on the opposite end of the Ohio River. More information will come as soon as construction on the approach ramp is completed. In the meantime, the bridge serves as a semi-ramp, crossing the Ohio River but ending in mid-air on the Indiana side.
The author would like to thank the guest columnist for the article and the photos included which can be seen below:
Note: More photos of the bridge can be found in the Bridgehunter website, which can be seen here.