The Ben Williamson Memorial Bridge carries US Route 23 Spur southbound over the Ohio River between Ashland, Kentucky and Lawrence County, Ohio.
The first steps towards the construction of a bridge between Ashland, Kentucky and Coal Grove, Ohio came on July 21, 1926, when the Coal Grove & Ashland Bridge was incorporated in Ohio by Thomas Boggess, S.S. Willis, O.E. Irish, E.K. Riley, and Minnie M.G. Grimes. 10 12 The incorporation was similar to the incorporation of the Ashland Bridge Company in Kentucky by H.C. McCarthy, Thomas Boggess, and S.S. Willis. The two companies were merged shortly thereafter to form the Ashland-Coal Grove Bridge Company, headed by Boggess Jr. and John T. Diedrich. 1
The goal to build the new bridge was to replace the Winona Ferry and to increase industrial development in Coal Grove and South Point, Ohio. 1 10
The Army Corps of Engineers gave final approval for the new Ashland-Coal Grove Bridge on July 24, 1928. 11 It followed protests by large Pittsburgh steel and coal companies, which forced the main span of the bridge to be increased to 739 feet. The new bridge was proposed to accommodate highway traffic, interurban lines for the Ohio Valley Electric Company, and pedestrians.
The company hired John Edwin Greiner of the J.E. Greiner Company to design the new crossing. 1 3 8 It was proposed to expend $1.2 million 5 to build a cantilevered Warren through truss main span, and two Warren through trusses and one plate girder for the approaches. 3
Due to a lack of progress on the new bridge’s planning, the Ashland-Coal Grove Bridge Company turned over its federal franchise for erecting the river crossing to the Kentucky State Highway Commission on November 13, 1929. 8 9
The new bridge was completed and dedicated on August 6, 1931. 7 Tolls were levied under the provisions of the Murphy Toll Bridge Act to pay off the construction bonds as part of a $10,000,000 toll bridge construction program. 5 6 The program not only allowed the Ashland-Coal Grove Bridge to be built, but provided funding for spans at Boonesboro, Burnside, Canton, Eggner’s Ferry, Henderson, Maysville, Paducah, Smithland, Spottsville, and Tyrone. 6
The tolls were removed from the bridge, and the crossing was dedicated in honor of Ben M. Williamson, a U.S. Senator, philanthropist, and local businessman, in a ceremony that involved a small parade and a speech by Governor Keen Johnson on August 5, 1941. 1 4 13 The last automobile toll was paid by N.W. Dendy, secretary of the Eastern Kentucky Automobile Club, and the last pedestrian toll was submitted by John Howard Jr., a son of one of the toll takers. 13
In May 1985, the adjoining Simeon Willis Bridge was completed for Ohio-bound traffic, and the Ben Williamson Memorial Bridge was converted for Kentucky-bound traffic. The crossing was extensively rehabilitated in 1999, which involved the replacement of the bridge deck, the installation of new guardrails and lighting, and the repainting of the bridge in battleship gray. The crossing was repainted again in a light green color at the cost of $6.8 million in 2007. 2 The paint contrasted with the Simon Willis Bridge’s blue hue; together, the green and blue colors matched the city of Ashland’s logo.
- State: Kentucky, Ohio
- Route: US 23 Spur
- Type: Warren through truss
- Status: Active - Automobile
- Total Length: 2278 feet
- Main Span Length: 739 feet
- Deck Width: 22 feet
- Above Vertical Clearance: 15 feet
- “A history of Ashland, Kentucky, 1786-1954.” Ashland Centennial Committee. 1954. 2 Jan. 2007.
- Blair, Allen. “Green comes with price.” Daily Independent (Ashland), Dec. 14, 2006.
- Holth, Nathan. “12th Street Bridge.” HistoricBridges.org, 2020.
- “Bridge Contract.” Cincinnati Enquirer, 13 Nov. 1929, p. 2.
- Pitkin, Dwight L. “Kentucky Completing $10,000,000 Bridge Program.” Messenger-Inquirer [Owensboro], 29 Nov. 1931, p. 1-7.
- “New State Bridge at Ashland Dedicated.” Courier-Journal [Louisville], 6 Aug. 1931, p. 2.
- “State to Build New Bridge at Ashland.” Courier-Journal [Louisville], 13 Nov. 1929, p. 3.
- “General News from All Sections of Kentucky.” Courier-Journal [Louisville], 16 Nov. 1929, p. 21.
- “Coal Grove Ashland Bridge Company Has Incorporated.” Portsmouth Daily Times, 21 Jul. 1926, p. 9.
- “Way is Cleared for New Ashland Bridge.” Courier-Journal [Louisville], 25 Jul. 1928, p. 2.
- “Bridge Company Formed.” Cincinnati Enquirer, 21 Jul. 1926, p. 2.
- “Ashland Bridge Made Toll Free.” Inquirer [Owensboro], 6 Aug. 1941, p. 4.