The Camp Nelson Bridge carried US Route 27 over the Kentucky River in Camp Nelson, Kentucky.
In 1838, Lewis V. Wernwag designed the first bridge to span the Kentucky River at Camp Nelson. 1 At 300 feet, 2 4 the Camp Nelson Covered Bridge was among the world’s longest of its kind. 1 During the Civil War, it was the sole bridge across the river, serving as a crucial link between the Union and the Confederates. 2 Camp Nelson was vital in the Union’s defense, and a concealed Federal battery in Jessamine County targeted the bridge. 1 The bridge was later damaged after a truck broke its deck. 1 2
Louis Bower attempted to repair the Camp Nelson Covered Bridge at the cost of $8,000, but in the process, weakened it by destroying Wernwag’s carefully contrived balance of stresses. 10 Afterward, the Kentucky Highway Department condemned the bridge as unsafe.
In April 1927, work began on a new steel and concrete bridge, with the steel portion erected by the Mt. Vernon Bridge Company. 4 Due to right-of-way issues, A. M. Cook and Company took over the concrete work. Completed in 1928, the new 543-foot bridge, featuring a 275-foot Parker through truss span, cost $125,000. Over 1,000 attendees celebrated its dedication on March 10, with Judge H. G. Turner presiding. Remarkably, Cassie Harris, present at the original bridge’s dedication 90 years earlier, led a car procession across the new span.
The hope was to save the historic Camp Nelson Covered Bridge and transform it into a picturesque landmark next to the recently inaugurated Daniel Boone Lodge. 11 In 1932, the Kentucky Highway Department acknowledged the bridge’s solid structural condition in a report, despite issues like a leaking roof and a decayed floor beam. 12 However, despite its potential for preservation, the covered bridge was ultimately demolished in 1933. 1 12
Planning for a new Camp Nelson Bridge started in 1964. 5 However, the challenging landscape made it difficult to choose a location for the bridge and the connecting highway. After consideration, a spot 800 feet east of the current bridge was chosen. The design, crafted by Kroboth Engineers of Lexington, 8 settled on was a conventional girder structure with a main span of 330 feet, supported by three piers, with the tallest reaching 173 feet. 5
On November 23, 1970, 5 6 Governor Louie B. Nunn initiated the construction of the new bridge with a groundbreaking ceremony held at the existing Camp Nelson Bridge. 5
In June 1971, 6 the state Highway Department selected the Nashville Bridge Company for the construction of a new Camp Nelson Bridge, with a bid of $3,505,438. 3 Though Saltsman Construction Company had a lower bid in the amount of $3,390,086, concerns about their capacity to manage the project led to their bypass. The erection of the steel was subcontracted to Bristol Steel & Iron Works. 7 The low bidder for the substructure work was the R. R. Dawson Bridge Company of Bloomfield at $935,742. 5 Another contract was also let for the construction of 2.6 miles of approaches to the bridge. 6
The driving surface of the new Camp Nelson Bridge was finished on November 20, 1973, with the only work remaining on the barrier walls. 7 The new bridge was opened to traffic on May 6, 1974, and completed at the cost of $8,083,915. 8
The circa 1928 Camp Nelson Bridge was shut down to vehicular traffic on March 1, 1997, due to the county’s inability to finance the necessary repairs, which were estimated to be between $600,000 and $700,000. 14 Later that month, the bridge sustained additional damage from severe flooding along the Kentucky River. 13
- State: Kentucky
- Route: Formerly US Route 27
- Type: Parker Through Truss
- Status: Abandoned / Closed
- Total Length: 300' (1835); 543' (1928); 1,090' (1974)
- Main Span Length: 275' (1928); 330' (1974)
- Spans: 330', 230', 200' (1974)
- Deck Width: 19.7' (1928); 86' (1974)
- Roadway Width: 79' (1974)
- Total Height: 173' (1974)
- Navigational Clearance: 60' (1928)
- “Camp Nelson Covered Bridge (#1513).” Kentucky Historical Society.
- Smith, Lyda B.”Jessamine County, Formed in 1798, Was Named For Flower.” Lexington Leader, 30 Jun. 1938, p. 40.
- “Camp Nelson Bridge Contract Is Awarded.” Advocate-Messenger, 1 Jul. 1971, p. 1.
- “Visitors From All Parts of State Attend Dedication of New Bridge at Camp Nelson.” Lexington Herald, 11 Mar. 1928, pp. 1-7.
- “Ground Breaking Set For Bridge.” Advocate-Messenger, 22 Nov. 1970, p. 1.
- “Bids To Be Asked On More Route 27 Work.” Advocate-Messenger, 9 May 1971, p. 16.
- “Bridge To Be Finished In March.” Advocate-Messenger, 27 Jan. 1974, p. 15.
- “Bridge To Open At Camp Nelson.” Lexington Herald-Leader, 2 May 1974, p. 2.
- “Kentucky man works to maintain covered bridges.” Messenger-Inquirer, 27 Jun. 1974, p. 4D.
- Thierman, Sue McClelland. “Covered Bridges Run In The Family.” Courier-Journal Magazine, 6 Nov. 1960, pp. 30.
- “Distillery Being Converted Into Tavern Near Kentucky River at Camp Nelson Nearing Completion.” Lexington Herald, 24 Nov. 1929, p. 3.
- Mastin, Bettye Lee. “Vandalism, neglect take toll on structures.” Lexington Herald-Leader, 16 Sept. 1986, pp. D1-D2.
- “U.S. 27 Camp Nelson bridge now considered a lost cause.” Lexington Herald-Leader, 4 Sept. 1997, p. C1.
- Stevens, Vicki. “Garrard will close Camp Nelson bridge.” Advocate-Messenger, 12 Feb. 1997, p. A4.