High Bridge

High Bridge

The High Bridge carries an active railroad across the Kentucky River near Wilmore, Kentucky. The bridge was once the highest bridge in North America and the highest railroad crossing in the world.


The Lexington & Danville Railroad (L&D) was chartered in March 1850 to construct a 35-mile line between Lexington and Danville, two major cities in Kentucky at the time. One of the major impediments of building such a line was the deep Kentucky River gorge which at certain points was almost 300 feet deep. In 1854, the railroad hired John A. Roebling to design a suspension bridge to carry the L&D over the Kentucky River. 1 4

Roebling was only able to construct the four sandstone anchor towers from which to suspend the wire cables at the cost of $100,000 before the L&D failed at the onset of the Civil War. 4

After the Civil War had concluded, merchants in Cincinnati sought a way to get their goods to markets in the South without having to send them downriver to Louisville to the Louisville & Nashville Railroad. 4 The city formulated plans to develop its own railroad to Knoxville, Tennessee in 1835, 5 and the first contract for construction was awarded in December 1873. 6

Construction resumed on the railroad bridge over the Kentucky River on October 16, 1876. 4 Instead of a suspension bridge, the Cincinnati Southern opted to hire the S. Shaler Smith 5 of the Baltimore Bridge Company of Baltimore, Maryland to construct a Whipple deck truss. 1 2 3 4 The new one-track structure was finished at the cost of $404,856 1 2 3 on February 20, 1877. 4 The first train operated over the structure in April.

At 1,125-feet-long and 275-feet-tall, the new High Bridge had the distinction of being the first cantilevered bridge in the United States, 7 the highest of any crossing in North America until 1888 when Young’s High Bridge was completed at Tyrone, 1 2 3 and the highest railroad bridge in the world.

The new High Bridge was formally dedicated by President Rutherford B. Hayes on September 17, 1879. 4 Hayes, his sons Birchard and Rutherford, and Civil War General William T. Sherman attended as guests of the railroad.

Because of a constant increase in locomotive loading and traffic, a new double-track steel superstructure was designed by Gustav Lindenthal 4 and constructed around the old bridge between 1910-11. 2 The $1.25 million project was overseen by the American Bridge Company of New York.

In 1929, a second track was installed on the crossing which required the removal of the sandstone anchor towers from the never-completed suspension bridge. 2

The High Bridge was declared an engineering landmark in 1986 by the American Society of Civil Engineers. 2 3 4



  • State: Kentucky
  • Route: Norfolk Southern Railroad
  • Type: Baltimore deck truss
  • Status: Active - Railroad
  • Total Length: 1,125 feet
  • Main Span Length: 525 feet
  • Deck Width: 25 feet
  • Height: 275 feet (1877); 308 feet (1911)


  1. “High Bridge, Kentucky.” Kentucky Atlas & Gazetter, 27 Feb. 2009.
  2. Powell, Tim. “High Bridge History.” WorldTimZone 2008, 27 Feb. 2009.
  3. “High Bridge.” Jessamine County Kentucky Tourism, 27 Feb. 2009.
  4. Kocher, Greg. “A bridge to the past.” Herald-Leader [Lexington], 8 Sept. 1999, p. 18.
  5. “The Birth of an Idea.” Cincinnati Southern Railway. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Dec. 2014. Article.
  6. “Historical Timeline.” Cincinnati Southern Railway. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Dec. 2014. Article.
  7. Marsh, Ramona W. “They Said It Couldn’t Be Built But High Bridge Still Standing.” Lexington Leader, 17 Aug. 1974, pp. C1-C2.

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