The Audubon Memorial Bridge consists of c. 1932 and c. 1965 cantilevered through trusses carrying US Route 41 over the Ohio River between Henderson, Kentucky, and Evansville, Indiana.
Proposals for a fixed connection to replace the overburdened Dade Park Ferry 7 along the newly designated US Route 41 between Evansville, Indiana, and Henderson, Kentucky came in 1927 when the Indiana General Assembly passed a special act to allow for the construction of a bridge between the two cities. Preliminary plans, surveys, and estimates were produced by the Indiana state highway department, and on November 28, a contract was awarded to Sprague & Henwood of Scranton, Pennsylvania for foundation borings at the cost of $7,200. 10
Negotiations to build the bridge as a joint venture with the Commonwealth of Kentucky began in late July 1928 which led to the development of a formalized contract on September 12. 9 10 The proposal made by Kentucky was that the Indiana highway commission pay for half of the bridge’s construction cost, while Kentucky would pay for the other half with revenue bonds that would be retired by collecting tolls. It was an unusual agreement because the proposed Evansville-Henderson Bridge would be built entirely in Kentucky. Indiana would not agree to the agreement, which led Kentucky to file suit in the United States Supreme Court in October so that it could receive guidance and clarification on the contract.
Meanwhile, bridge builders Modjeski & Masters of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania was retained to design the new river crossing. 1 9
In May 1930, the Supreme Court ordered Indiana to cooperate in building the bridge under the original proposed plan, although the financing package was changed. The federal government would now pay for half of the construction costs, with Kentucky and Indiana paying for the remainder. 3 10 Kentucky would pay for maintaining the bridge, for operating expenses, and for collecting tolls. After the tolls are retired, the two states would share in the maintenance expense. 9
Eight bridge construction contracts were let on October 28 and 30 for a total of $2.1 million: 9
- The construction of five river piers was let to the Kansas City Bridge Company of Kansas City, Missouri for $166,800;
- The construction of the four main cantilever spans to the American Bridge Company of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for $675,945;
- The construction of the approach piers and abutments to the Rieth-Riley Construction Company of Goshen, Indiana for $197,500;
- The construction of the approach spans to the Globe Construction Company of Evansville for $260,750;
- The construction of the approach embankments to the Scharl Construction Company of Grand Rapids, Michigan for $188,221;
- The construction of two overflow structures to the Globe Construction Company for $97,044;
- The construction of two overflow structures to the Globe Construction Company for $134,865; and
- The paving on the embankment approaches to William D. Vogal of Indianapolis for $58,739.
The Evansville-Henderson Bridge cost $2.4 million to construct and opened to traffic on July 4, 1932. 3
A three day dedication celebration was held between July 4 and July 6. 8 9 It started with special morning services at churches in Evansville followed by a public inspection of the bridge, tours in Evansville and Henderson, boat races on the river, and air maneuvers at Dade Park. 9 At 11:30 am, the Evansville-Henderson Bridge was dedicated by Kentucky Governor Ruby Laffoon and Indiana Governor Harry G. Leslie shaking hands with one another as 22 military planes under the command of Jimmy Doolittle flew overhead with cannon fire and boat whistles in the distance to celebrate the occasion. 2 9 Activities included a two-mile, two-hour parade. Music and addresses were held at Bosse Field that night. More than 100,000 visitors attended the celebration and 111,091 vehicles crossed the bridge in its first two days of operation, creating delays of up to two hours to travel from Henderson to Evansville. 2
Originally named simply the Evansville-Henderson Bridge, it was dedicated to John James Audubon, an American ornithologist, naturalist, and painter who lived in Henderson in the 1810s. 4 The name proved controversial as the idea was supported only by the Kentucky Highway Commission; the Indiana Commission believed the Audubon name was too common in the Midwest. 7
Tolls were levied on the Audubon Memorial Bridge until March 20, 1941, 1 5 6 10 when the original construction bonds were paid off.
With traffic congestion becoming a daily occurrence on the two-lane Audubon Memorial Bridge, planning efforts to build a second bridge across the Ohio River between Evansville and Henderson began in 1959. 16 19 Three alignments were studied: a westerly route that would bisect a low-lying peninsula in Kentucky and connect to US Route 460 and a proposed western bypass of Evansville; an easterly route that would connect to a proposed eastern bypass of Evansville; and a parallel bridge next to the existing alignment. 19 Kentucky did not favor a western route as 15 miles of new highway would need to be built above the flood plain at great expense. It favored instead a parallel bridge that would tie into New Green River Road and bypass Evansville to the east.
By October, it was determined that a parallel bridge be built 2,500 to 3,000 feet from the present Audubon Memorial Bridge. 20
Meanwhile, endeavors were underway to construct a US Route 41 bypass of Henderson 19 and extend Interstate 24 from Nashville, Tennessee northwest through Kentucky. 15 16 By 1961, the federal Bureau of Public Roads had directed the Kentucky State Highway Department to consider four western terminuses of the interstate in Kentucky, which included Charleston, Missouri, Cairo, Illinois, Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and Pulley’s Mill, Illinois.
On June 1, the state of Indiana requested that the Bureau consider Evansville as a fifth terminus. 15 16 The Indiana State Highway Commission noted that the interstate could incorporate the proposal of a second bridge for US Route 41 between Kentucky and Indiana, and the proposed four-laning of US Route 41 from the bridge to the Henderson bypass. But the state expressed concern that Kentucky could not afford to widen US Route 41 elsewhere without having to build an interstate because of a lack of federal funding. 16
On August 21, Indiana agreed to withdraw its proposal that Interstate 24 be routed by way of Evansville provided that Kentucky improves US Route 41 through the state. 14 Kentucky gave assurance that it was prepared to immediately proceed with projects to improve US Route 41 throughout the state which would include a parallel bridge across the Ohio River between Henderson and Evansville, the widening of US Route 41 from the bridge to the Henderson bypass, the completion of the 15-mile Madisonville (Kentucky) bypass, and other unspecified improvements. With the shift, Interstate 24’s routing through Kentucky was shifted back to the Paducah area as a control point.
The first contract for the construction of the parallel Audubon Memorial Bridge was let on June 26, 1962. 17 By August, substructure work had started. 18
On December 17, 1965, a parallel bridge for southbound US Route 41 traffic opened; the existing c. 1932 bridge was reconfigured for northbound traffic. 3 11 George Lucas of Henderson, the first motorist to cross the new bridge, was also the first to purchase a toll ticket to cross the original c. 1932 bridge. 11 12 Half of the bridge’s $5.5 million costs were bourne by federal funds with the remainder split equally between Kentucky and Indiana. 12
The new bridge tied into a newly widened US Route 41 that extended to the four-lane bypass of Henderson. 13
The northbound c. 1932 Audubon Memorial Bridge underwent rehabilitation in 1983, the southbound c. 1965 bridge underwent painting in 1990, 2 and both bridges underwent $22 million in structural renovations and painting between 2007-08.
- State: Indiana, Kentucky
- Route: US Route 41
- Type: Warren Through Truss
- Status: Active - Automobile
- Total Length: 5,395 feet (1932)
- Main Span Length: 720 feet (1932); 600 feet (1965)
- Roadway Width: 30 feet
- Height: 285 feet
- Above Vertical Clearance: 19.8 feet
- “Northbound bridge celebrating 75 years.” Evansville Courier Press, 1 Jul. 2007.
- Whitaker, Jodi. “Transportation Officials Formulate Plan to Maintain Traffic Flow on US 41 Twin Bridges in Henderson.” Commonwealth of Kentucky, 30 Apr. 2007.
- “Bevin speech makes advocates more hopeful than ever for I-69 bridge.” Evansville Courier & Press, 1 Feb. 2016.
- “History of John James Audubon State Park.” Commonwealth of Kentucky.
- Boyett, Frank. “Bridge Building Boom Henderson County KY.” HendersonKYHistory.com, 30 Mar. 1996.
- “Henderson County, Kentucky Genealogical Records Information.” raogk.org.
- “Audubon Bridge Name Debated.” Evansville Press, 29 Jun. 1932, p. 3.
- “‘Audubon Bridge’ Name Suggested for Local Span.” Evansville Courier and Press, 30 Jun. 1932, p. 9.
- “Bridge Over Ohio Unites 2 States.” Indianapolis Star, 3 Jul. 1932, p. 6.
- Baburnich, John. “Evansville-Henderson Bridge.” History Boneyard.
- “New Bridge Over Ohio Dedicated.” Messenger-Inquirer [Owensboro], 17 Dec. 1965, p. B1.
- Croft III, Joe H. “Dedication of Span, Bypass Climaxes States’ Program.” Evansville Courier and Press, 17 Dec. 1965, p. A27.
- “Multi-Million Dollar Road Program Boosts Economy.” Evansville Courier and Press, 11 Aug. 1963, p. J6.
- Vance, Kyle. “Indiana Withdraws I-24 Protest.” Courier-Journal [Louisville], 22 Aug. 1961, p. 2-1.
- “Indiana Link for I-24 is Proposed.” Paducah Sun-Democrat, 2 Jun. 1961, p. 1.
- Vance, Kyle. “Kentucky to Oppose Northern I-24 Route.” Courier-Journal [Louisville], 4 Aug. 1961, p. 1-4.
- “Contact Set on Bridge Job.” Paducah Sun, 29 May 1962, p. 15.
- “Henderson Bridge Bids Tentatively Slated.” Evansville Press, 19 Jan. 1963, p. 1.
- “We Can’t Sink Highways Plans in Lowlands.” Evansville Courier and Press, 24 Feb. 1959, p. 8.
- Burleigh, William. “Early Study Pledged on New Bridge.” Evansville Press, 20 Oct. 1959, p. 1.