The Shawneetown Bridge carries Kentucky Route 56 and Illinois Route 13 at between Union County, Kentucky, and Shawneetown, Illinois.
Following the American Revolution, Shawneetown emerged as a significant center of administration for the United States government in the Northwest Territory. It held the distinction of being one of only two towns chartered by the federal government, the other being Washington D.C. Upon the admission of Illinois into the Union in 1818, Shawneetown was designated as the county seat of Gallatin County.
During the early 19th century, thousands of pioneers embarked on westward journeys crossing the Ohio River from Kentucky into Illinois. The first ferry crossing of the river was recorded as early as 1802 by Alexander Wilson, followed by La Bauissier at a later date. 12
In January 1928, N.E. Elliott, the president of the National Toll Bridge Company in Chicago, proposed the construction of multiple bridges over the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. 11 The company had conducted traffic counts in southern Illinois and western Kentucky and concluded that a bridge in Shawneetown would attract a significant number of tourists. Despite being granted a franchise for the bridge’s construction, the company could not proceed due to low traffic counts. 10
The effort was reignited in 1946 10 during meetings to promote industrial growth, tourist attraction, and recreational opportunities in southern Illinois. 8 Engineers identified a suitable location for the bridge by September, and the St. Louis-based firm Sverdrup & Parcel was hired to conduct a survey. 9 It was determined that the Illinois approach would be built above the 1913 flood mark and would not match the 1937 flood mark, which was deemed a 200-year occurrence.
The Kentucky Department of Highways initially planned for two 726-foot steel trusses to provide 700 feet of horizontal clearance for boats and a vertical clearance of 102.4 feet above the normal pool and 48 feet above the high water mark of 1937, and a vertical clearance of 41 feet above the high water mark of 1937 under the high water channel span. 6 However, the project was met with opposition from barge pilots who requested a minimum of 800 feet of horizontal clearance, with a preference for 1,000 feet.
On August 22, 1951, the Kentucky Department of Highways announced an agreement between Kentucky and Illinois to construct the Shawneetown-Union County Bridge. 2 4 The bridge was expected to connect KY Routes 56 and 85 at The Rocks with Illinois Route 13 at Shawneetown, replacing the ferry. Illinois agreed to build its approaches at a cost of $400,000, 4 while Kentucky would build its approach for $675,000 5 and construct the bridge structure using tolls from a bond issue authorized by the Murphy Toll Bridge Act of 1928. It was estimated that the bridge would cost $3 million, with Kentucky paying for its portion with tolls via a bond issue authorized by the Murphy Toll Bridge Act of 1928. Sverdrup & Parcel was retained as consulting engineers for the bridge’s design.
On February 5th, 1954, 5 bids for the construction of the Shawneetown-Union County Bridge were received, and on February 11, construction contracts worth a total of $3,730,427 were awarded. 7 Traylor Brothers of Evansville, Indiana received a contract worth $1,036,563 for the substructure, the Allied Structural Steel Company of Chicago was awarded a contract worth $2,693,864 for the superstructure, and the R.B. Tyler Company of Louisville received a contract worth $457,058 for the Kentucky approach.
Construction of the bridge began in 1954. 3
In the fall of 1955, the not-yet-complete bridge was dedicated as the Earle C. Clements Bridge, named after U.S. Senator and former Kentucky Governor Earle C. Clements, a native of Morganfield who was a political ally of Governor Lawrence Wetherby. 1 Limited to one term by the state constitution, Wetherby supported Bert Combs to be his successor. Still, Combs lost in the Democratic primary to A.B. “Happy” Chandler, a former governor and opponent to both Wetherby and Clements. Chandler ultimately won the governorship.
However, shortly before the bridge’s completion in May 1956, Governor Happy Chandler renamed it the Shawneetown Bridge. 1 Chandler was not in attendance at its dedication.
The $4,475,000 bridge 3 opened to traffic on June 1st, 1956, following a ceremony at 2 PM (CST). 1 It was the only highway bridge crossing the river between Henderson and Paducah, a distance of 140 miles, and was initially tolled with rates ranging from 75 cents to $2.50.
The last day tolls were collected was June 30, 1978, with the original construction bonds on the Shawneetown Bridge retired on July 1. 3 The retirement of debt was completed six years ahead of its 30-year debt payment schedule.
A $2.7 million bridge deck rehabilitation project necessitated the closure of the Shawneetown Bridge to oversized vehicles, including farm equipment, starting on June 29, 2015. 12 13 Ferry service was reinstated for the approximate 40 farmers who needed to move equipment from one side of the river to the other. The renovation was completed ahead of schedule on September 25. 14
- State: Illinois, Kentucky
- Route: KY Route 56, IL Route 13
- Type: Warren Deck Truss, Beam, Warren Through Truss
- Status: Active - Automobile
- Total Length: 3,200 feet
- Main Span Length: 825 feet × 2
- Deck Width: 28 feet
- Roadway Width: 24 feet
- Above Vertical Clearance: 19 feet
- Navigational Clearance:
- “Clements Span Now ‘The Shawneetown’.” Evansville Press, 23 May 1956.
- “Shawneetown, Ill.” Evansville Press, 22 Aug. 1951.
- “Toll on Shawneetown Bridge over Ohio River ends July 1.” Hardin County Independent, 16 Mar. 1978, p. 1.
- “Build New Bridge Across Ohio River.” Clinton Daily Journal and Public, 29 Aug. 1951, p. 1.
- Morris, Hugh. “Kentucky-Illinois Span Bids Asked for Feb. 5.” Courier-Journal, 8 Jan. 1954, p. A19.
- “U.S. Engineers Hold Hearing On Bridge at Shawneetown.” Daily Register, 23 Jun. 1950, pp. 1-4.
- “Award Contracts for Toll Bridge.” Hardin County Independent, 18 Feb. 1954, p. 1.
- “Meeting at Shawneetown July 2 Will Discuss Bridge Across River.” Daily Register, 24 Jun. 1948, p. 1.
- “Engineers Decide Location of New Ohio River Bridge.” Evansville Press, 24 Sept. 1948, p. 6.
- “Ohio River Bridge at Shawneeetown Is Urged.” Evansville Press, 3 Feb. 1946, p. 19.
- “Forecasts New Bridge at Shawneetown, Ill.” Paducah Sun-Democrat, 18 Jan. 1928, p. 9.
- “This summer’s temporary ferry at Shawneetown is reminder of region’s rich history.” The Gleaner, 25 Sept. 2015.
- “Shawneetown Bridge lane closure begins.” Courier & Press, 29 Jun. 2015.
- Callais, Krystle. “Shawneetown bridge back open to all traffic.” WPSD, 25 Sept. 2015.