The Purple People Bridge, also known as the Newport Southbank Bridge, is a vibrant and iconic pedestrian bridge that spans the Ohio River, connecting Cincinnati, Ohio, and Newport, Kentucky. This remarkable bridge, with its distinctive purple hue, has become a beloved landmark in the region.
Originally built in 1872 as a railway bridge, the structure underwent extensive reconstruction in 1897, by which point it carried a railroad track for the Louisville & Nashville Railroad (L&N), two streetcar tracks, a roadway for carriages, and a sidewalk for pedestrians–now known as the L&N Railroad Bridge. Tolls on the automobile lanes were removed in 1941, and the streetcar tracks that had been mothballed on the bridge for decades were finally removed in the 1940s.
With the consolidation of railroad companies in the 1970s and 1980s, the L&N’s parent company, Seaboard Coast Line Railroad (SCL), opted to coordinate local operations with the Chessie System, which controlled the former Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad lines in the area. In June 1984, the SCL re-routed trains over the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad Cincinnati Bridge, and the tracks on the L&N Railroad Bridge were removed.
Due to structural deterioration, the bridge was permanently closed to automobiles in October 2001.
At the urging of the Kentucky state legislature, money was appropriated for the complete restoration and painting of the L&N Railroad Bridge. To determine the color for painting the bridge, over a dozen focus groups were convened. Participants in these groups were shown computer-generated images of the bridge in various colors. After careful consideration, all of the focus groups unanimously selected purple as the top choice.
After some ownership changes, the Newport Southbank Bridge Company was formed to own and manage the river crossing. It reopened as the only pedestrian and non-motorized crossing in the Cincinnati metropolitan area in 2003. Dubbed the Purple People Bridge because of its color, the crossing serves as a crucial link between the cities on either side of the river, fostering a sense of unity and providing a picturesque pathway for pedestrians and cyclists.
The bridge is more than just a means of crossing the river; it has become a hub of activity and a symbol of community. Throughout the year, the Purple People Bridge hosts various events, festivals, and gatherings.