The Fourteenth Street Bridge is an Ohio River crossing, connecting Louisville, Kentucky to Clarksville, Indiana.
The first proposal for crossing of the Ohio at Louisville came early, when James Guthrie formed the Ohio Bridge Company to construct a bridge in 1829. An architect from New England, Ithiel Town, was hired to design a wooden bridge, and a cornerstone was laid in 1836 by Twelfth Street in Louisville.(1) The Panic of 1837 stopped further work, and additional capital could not be secured. An additional attempt was made in the 1850s, but the project was thereafter known as “Guthrie’s Folly.”
In the 1860s, the Louisville and Nashville Railroad (L&N) and the Jeffersonville and Indianapolis Railroad (J&I) both desired a railroad crossing over the Ohio River. On February 17, 1865, the United States Congress authorized the construction of a bridge at Louisville, as there were no bridges across the Ohio River at Cincinnati or any place westward.(1)
The L&N financed the Louisville Bridge Company, and work on the new bridge began on August 1, 1867.(1) Albert Fink served as architect and used his patented Fink truss design for the project. The design called for a minimum span length of 330 feet and one track. Stone for the piers was sourced from Bardstown Junction, Kentucky and Utica, Indiana.
At the time of its completion on February 12, 1870, the L&N Fourteenth Street Bridge was the longest iron bridge in the United States, featuring 27 spans over one mile.(1)(2) The bridge also included a swing span. Span lengths varied from 352 feet to 380 feet, and was high enough so that steamboats could make their way underneath via the Portland Canal. The height was so high that it added $150,000 to the construction cost, which totalled $2,003,696.27.(2)
Unfortunately, 56 men were killed and 80 injured during the construction process.(2)
The Pennsylvania Railroad purchased the L&N’s 60% ownership of the bridge, and commanded control of the crossing in the mid-1870s after acquiring the J&I tracks between Jeffersonville and Indianapolis.(1) While under control of the Pennsylvania Railroad, the bridge was referred to as the Pennsylvania Bridge.
By 1882, the Pennsylvania Bridge was used up to 150 times per day, with communications controlled by semaphore.(1) But by the 1900s, the bridge was being stressed – with 300 trains running on the bridge per day. Between May 1916 and January 1919, a new single-track steel superstructure was installed on the old stone piers.(2) One pier on the Indiana side was removed, and that span length was increased to 643.10 feet in length which improved river navigation. A lift span replaced the swing span above the canal.
In 1968, the Pennsylvania Railroad and the New York Central Railroad merged to become Penn Central. Eight years later, it was placed under Conrail. The Louisville and Indiana Railroad purchased the Jeffersonville to Indianapolis line and bridge from Conrail in March 1994.(1)
- Designation: Fourteenth Street Bridge
- Crosses: Ohio River
- Bridge Type: Pennsylvania through truss
- Total Length: 5,218 feet
- Main Span Length: 645 feet
- Number of Lanes: 1