The Newport-Southbank Bridge, also known as the Purple People Bridge, is a pedestrian crossing of the Ohio River between Newport, Kentucky, and Cincinnati, Ohio.
Newport Ferry Company
During the 1830s to the 1850s, Newport, Kentucky, engaged in legal battles against the Taylor family’s exclusive control of the ferry service across the Ohio River to Cincinnati, Ohio. 20 In each of these cases, the courts consistently ruled in favor of the Taylors. In each of these cases, the courts consistently ruled in favor of the Taylors. In 1866, Captain John A. Williamson joined William N. Air to form Air & Williamson to lease the Newport Ferry. 21
In September 1868, efforts to construct a bridge connecting the two cities received a significant boost. 20 Opponents of the Taylor family’s ferry monopoly intensified their lobbying against proposed fare increases. The ferry operators had planned to suspend their discounted commuter program starting from October 1. This program allowed a man and his entire family, including servants, to cross the ferry on foot for $8 per year. For single individuals, the cost was $6 per year. However, the ferry company announced a new plan: selling commutation tickets in packages of 100 for $1.25 per packet.
Citizens organized mass meetings to protest against the proposed fare hikes. 20 A citizens’ committee even met with Captain John Williamson from Air & Williamson, the lessees of the ferry from the Taylor family. However, Williamson justified the new rates by stating that the company had incurred losses of $4,000 over the previous six months.
In response, the citizens’ committee pursued an alternative strategy and successfully negotiated a new commuter arrangement with the Covington & Newport Bridge Company, which operated a bridge over the Licking River between Newport and Covington. 20 They also engaged with the Covington & Cincinnati Bridge Company, which operated a suspension bridge over the Ohio River between Covington and Cincinnati. Starting from September 30, Newport commuters were able to cross both the Licking and Ohio rivers for just one cent and a quarter per trip by purchasing tickets in packages of one hundred. Nevertheless, the ferry company proceeded with its planned fare increase for the Newport Ferry.
Newport & Cincinnati Railroad Bridge
Despite protests from Newport citizens regarding the ferry monopoly, private entities collaborated to persuade the railroad to extend its route across the Ohio River into Cincinnati via Newport. 20 In February 1868, the Newport & Cincinnati Bridge Company was established with the purpose of constructing a bridge between Newport and Cincinnati, accommodating railroad tracks, pedestrians, and various types of vehicles.
Undeterred, the Newport city council persisted in its efforts to attract the Louisville, Cincinnati & Lexington Railroad (LC&L) to Newport. 20 On May 12, 1868, the council passed two ordinances. The first ordinance granted the railroad a right-of-way along city streets, while the second ordinance allocated a portion of a street for the bridge approach. Construction of the Newport & Cincinnati Railroad Bridge commenced in August 1869 and was completed on April 1, 1872. 1 2
This marked a significant milestone as it became the first railroad bridge to connect Cincinnati and northern Kentucky across the Ohio River. 1 2 11 Previously, the Cincinnati & Lexington Railroad had its endpoint in Covington, a neighboring city, and relied on a ferry to transport railroad cars to Cincinnati. 5 However, Covington had opposed the sale of the right-of-way for an approach to an Ohio River bridge. Their concern was that if the bridge were built, Covington would lose its position as the final destination of the railroad line.
The bridge was under the ownership of the Little Miami Railroad, which also operated terminal facilities in Cincinnati that the LC&L utilized. 1 11 The structure was constructed by Jacob H. Linnville and the Keystone Bridge Company, both of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with the piers built using stone sourced from Adams County, Ohio. 3 Besides carrying one railroad track, it featured two roadways located on the outside of the trusses on projecting floor beams. 4
The bridge itself consisted of various components. It had a timber trestle measuring 1,130 feet, a through truss spanning 100 feet, and six deck trusses of different lengths (1×75 feet, 1×85 feet, 4×80 feet). Additionally, there was a Whipple through truss spanning 85 feet, three brick arch spans totaling 137 feet, two pony truss spans measuring 92.2 feet and 96 feet, and six Whipple through truss spans of varying lengths (137 feet, 418 feet, 237 feet, 260 feet, 2×202.5 feet). The bridge also featured three spans measuring 43.8 feet each, seven brick arch spans totaling 182 feet, one span measuring 35 feet, and five brick arch spans along with an approach wall measuring 326.2 feet. Overall, the bridge had a total length of 3,022 feet.
L&N Railroad Bridge
In 1897, a major reconstruction and expansion occurred at the river crossing under the direction of M. J. Becker, chief engineer of the Newport & Cincinnati Bridge Company, owned and controlled by the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad, which had leased the Little Miami in 1869. 4 This was done to make room for different types of traffic, such as one track for the L&N, two streetcar tracks for the Cincinnati, Newport & Covington Railway (CN&C, Green Line), a sidewalk for pedestrians, and a roadway for carriages.
As part of the project, the piers were widened and strengthened while others were removed, and the superstructure was modified. 4 The modifications included the addition of a 133-foot truss, a 505-foot Pennsylvania through truss, and four Parker through trusses, each measuring 198 feet in length. 5 In addition, there were plate girder sections, and three brick arch spans in Cincinnati, as well as plate girder sections and seven brick arch span approaches in Newport. The substructure was finished by Hutte & Foley, while the superstructure was built and erected by the Edge Moor Bridge Works of Wilmington, Delaware, with the project overseen by M. J. Becker.
The reconstructed Newport & Cincinnati Railroad Bridge was designed with the following features: a 20-foot-wide carriage path specifically for horses and buggies, a streetcar track positioned between the carriage path and the railroad track, and an additional streetcar track located on the west side of the bridge, away from the through truss. 5
In 1904, the bridge was acquired by the Louisville & Nashville Railroad (L&N), and the river crossing became known as the L&N Railroad Bridge. 1 At that time, the bridge’s carriage path was repaved to accommodate automobiles. 5
In 1928, the Kentucky Highway Department initiated efforts to acquire the vehicular and pedestrian section of the L&N Railroad Bridge. 12 However, the L&N Railroad opposed this move since the bridge had not been generating profits from its vehicular and pedestrian operations until automobiles became prevalent. In response, the state authorities threatened to construct a highway bridge adjacent to it. Eventually, J. Lyter Donaldson, the Kentucky Highway Commissioner, reached an agreement with the railroad to purchase the vehicular and pedestrian portion of the bridge for $1.8 million on November 15, 1935. Three percent bonds were sold to raise the purchase price, with tolls remaining in effect to pay off the bonds.
The bridge tolls were last paid at 2 PM on November 11, 1941. 12 An hour later, in front of over 5,000 spectators, Kentucky Governor Keen Johnson, along with Cincinnati Mayor James G. Stewart, Donaldson, and Cincinnati City Manager C. O. Sherrill, participated in a ceremony where they cut a ribbon representing the bridge’s liberation.
After the opening of the Dixie Terminal’s lower level on November 27, 1921, the CN&C’s streetcar tracks were consolidated to cross the Central Bridge. 9 The lines on the L&N Railroad Bridge were retained for emergency use. Eventually, the streetcar tracks in Kentucky were abandoned by July 3, 1950, in favor of trolleybuses or motorized buses. 8 10 The center streetcar track was transformed into a pedestrian walkway. 1 5
In the 1950s, both the L&N Railroad Bridge and the nearby Central Bridge were designated as one-way during morning and afternoon rush hours to increase their capacity. 5 Additionally, a looped entrance ramp was added from 2nd Street in 1956. In 1980, the state of Kentucky repainted the automobile and pedestrian side of the bridge and installed a new flooring system and deck along the roadway. 22
In 1971, the Seaboard Coast Line Railroad (SCL) purchased the remainder of the L&N shares it did not already own, and the L&N became a subsidiary. With the railroad consolidating in the 1970s and 1980s, SCL absorbed the L&N entirely in 1982 with the newly merged company known as Family Lines.
At the end of June 1984, 13 14 SCL stopped using the L&N Railroad Bridge when it began coordinating local operations with the Chessie System, which operated the former Chesapeake & Ohio lines in the area. 14 Furthermore, the L&N/SCL/Family Lines had experienced a decrease in traffic due to the abandonment of the Little Miami Railroad and the Cincinnati, Lebanon & Northern Railway, both of which it had connections to. The line also had a complicated routing through Newport, including a street running track. The SCL re-routed trains over the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad Cincinnati Bridge.
In 1986, the SCL formally merged with the Chessie System, which became CSX Transportation (CSX).
By 1987, the tracks had been removed, and the north approach viaduct was mostly dismantled. 5 Although CSX listed the bridge for sale and had three serious offers for the crossing, it remained unsold. 13 By the 1990s, due to deferred maintenance by CSX, the bridge’s condition deteriorated.
The L&N Railroad Bridge was officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places on April 19, 2001. Due to structural deterioration, the bridge was permanently closed to automobiles in October of the same year. 1
Purple People Bridge
In 2000, 7 15 at the urging of Kentucky House Majority Caucus Chairman Jim Callahan, who wanted to revive and paint the deteriorated L&N Railroad Bridge, 15 the Kentucky state legislature approved a $4 million budget for the complete restoration and painting of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad Bridge. 1 6 7 The bridge was jointly owned by the state and CSX. As part of the restoration process, CSX donated its share of the bridge to the newly formed Southbank Partners. Additionally, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet transferred ownership to the city of Newport, Kentucky. In collaboration, the city and Southbank Partners established a separate non-profit corporation called the Newport Southbank Bridge Company, which was responsible for owning and managing the bridge.
To determine the color for painting the bridge, over a dozen focus groups were convened. 6 Participants in these groups were shown computer-generated images of the bridge in various colors. After careful consideration, all of the focus groups unanimously selected purple as the top choice.
On April 26, 2003, the Newport Southbank Bridge, better known as the Purple People Bridge due to its distinctive color, officially opened to pedestrians and non-motorized traffic. 7
The Purple People Bridge Climb was launched on June 19, 2006, offering a unique experience of climbing over the trusses of the river spans. 6 16 It was the first of its kind in the Northern Hemisphere and was inspired by a similar bridge climb on the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia.
However, the attraction closed down on May 23, 2007, due to low participation, with only 10,000 people taking part. 17 This fell well below the projected number of 30,000 to 40,000 visitors per year. One of the contributing factors was that the climb on the Purple People Bridge was only 140 feet above the Ohio River, whereas the climb in Australia was 440 feet, the high cost, the purple suits that participants had to wear, and the prohibitions on taking photos. A costly lawsuit over the rights to the project also sapped funding for operations.
In 2012, the Newport Southbank Bridge Company unveiled a $100 million development plan for the Purple People Bridge. 18 The aim was to construct a hotel, retail shops, and restaurants on the bridge, with the goal of generating a sustainable revenue stream for the bridge’s maintenance–including a bridge painting project that would cost around $1 million to complete.
To facilitate the development, the bridge company entered into an agreement with DW Real Estate Holdings. 18 The plan was to construct a 160,000-square-foot entertainment complex on the bridge. In support of the project, the Kentucky General Assembly allocated $650,000 for an engineering study, which was completed in March 2014. The study concluded that the bridge could support buildings on its structure, provided that $1 million worth of repairs were undertaken. However, DW Real Estate Holdings encountered challenges in securing financing for the project, despite the positive engineering study results.
In 2022, the Purple People Bridge celebrated its 150th anniversary with a series of events held throughout the summer. 6
- State: Kentucky, Ohio
- Route: N/A
- Type: Pratt Deck Truss, Parker Through Truss, Pennsylvania Through Truss
- Status: Active - Pedestrian
- Total Length: 3,022' (1872); 2,759' (1897)
- Main Span Length: 418' (1872); 510' (1897)
- Above Vertical Clearance: 21.1' (1897)
- “History.” The Purple People Bridge.
- Sonnenberg, Elissa. “Purple People Greeter.” Cincinnati Magazine, 2006.
- Evans, Nelson Wiley. A History of Adams County, Ohio: From Its Earliest Settlement to the Present Time. E B. Stivers, 1900, p. 427.
- “Erection of the Newport and Cincinnati Bridge.” The Engineering Record, 23. Jul. 1898, pp. 158-160.
- Mecklenberg, Jake. “Louisville & Nashville RR Bridge.” Cincinnati Transit.
- Ogwude, Haadiza. “The Purple People Bridge is 150 years old. Here’s a brief history of the landmark.” CIncinnati Enquirer, 8 Aug. 2002.
- “The color purple links river cities.” Herald-Leader, 23 Apr. 2003, p. B3.
- Jakucyk, Jeffrey. “Streetcar Information.” Cincinnati Traction History.
- “Cincinnati, Newport and Covington Ry.” NKY Views.
- “Covington Streetcars.” NKY Views.
- “The Enterprise.” Courier-Journal, 28 Jun. 1869, p. 1.
- “Last Fares are Collected on Newport Span.” Cincinnati Enquirer, 12 Nov. 1941, pp. 1-20.
- “For sale: 1 bridge across Ohio River.” Herald-Leader, 27 Jul. 1987, p. B12.
- “Firm may sell L&N Bridge.” Cincinnati Post, 17 Aug. 1984, p. 10C.
- Downs, Maggie. “Purple People Bridge links Newport, downtown.” Cincinnati Enquirer, 27 Apr. 2003, pp. A1-A8.
- Rutledge, Mike. “First group sees a new side of city, riverfront.” Cincinnati Enquirer, 20 Jun. 2006, p. B2.
- Clark, Ryan. “Bridge closing ruins wedding.” Cincinnati Enquirer, 25 May 2007, p. B3.
- Wartman, Scott. “Purple People Bridge hotel, shops in limbo.” Cincinnati Enquirer, 12 Jan. 2015, pp. A1-A3.
- “Bridges at Cincinnati.” Street Railway Review, 15 Dec. 1898, p. 893.
- Tenkotte, Paul A. “Our Rich History: Building bridges, ending monopolies — Newport commuters.” NKyTribune, 15 Mar. 2021.
- Tenkotte, Paul A. “Our Rich History: Dueling with Demons — Depression, debt, and deluge in Newport, 1873-1896.” NKyTribune, 31 May 2021.
- Dias, Monica. “Three bridges are starting to show the age.” Cincinnati Post, 22 Feb. 1988, p. 25D.