Young’s High Bridge is a Pratt deck truss bridge that carried the Louisville Southern Railway and Norfolk & Western Railway across the Kentucky River near Tyrone, Kentucky. It is remarkable for its extensive length and height.
Originally incorporated as the Louisville, Harrodsburg & Virginia Railroad in 1868, it was reorganized as the Louisville Southern Railway (LS), with construction commencing on a route between Louisville and Harrodsburg in 1884.
In 1888, the LS began construction of the Lexington to Lawrenceburg Division, a spur from Lawrenceburg to Lexington via Versailles, 2 which involved the erection of a bridge across the Kentucky River gorge at Tyrone.
Originally designed to be five feet lower than the Cincinnati Southern’s High Bridge, it was revised to be six inches higher so it could claim the title of being the highest bridge structure in North America. 5
The ground was broken for the new bridge on February 7, 1889, 7 with the substructure construction performed by the Hopkins & Company while the superstructure erection conducted by the Union Bridge Company of Buffalo, New York, and Athens, Pennsylvania. 1 7 Steel for the superstructure was sourced from the Detroit Bridge & Iron Works Company of Detroit, Michigan.
The first train crossed the new $200,000 Young’s High Bridge on August 21. 1 6 7 Named after William Bennett Henderson Young, then president of the Louisville Southern Railroad, 1 4 the crossing was the highest single-span cantilever structure in the world. 7 Although planned to be six inches higher than High Bridge, it ended up being 12 inches lower and couldn’t boast of being the highest bridge structure in the nation.
Although the LS had high hopes for traffic on the Lexington to Lawrenceburg Division, passenger revenues dwindled with the advent and rise of the automobile leading to the termination of passenger operations on December 27, 1937. 1 Freight traffic, while never significant, remained steady until a derailment at the Tyrone Power Station led to the spur’s closure in 1979. 2 A runaway locomotive on the steep spur destroyed several coal cars.
In the late 1970s, the Bluegrass Railroad Museum was formed in Versailles to operate a railroad museum and excursion train over the LS. 6 A passenger excursion train was operated for a while from Versailles to Young’s High Bridge.
The LS, which was incorporated into the Southern Railway in 1892, became a part of the Norfolk Southern (NS) in 1980. With few customers remaining along the NS’s Lawrenceburg Division, and with maintenance costs mounting on the aging Kentucky River bridge, the line between Lawrenceburg and Versailles was mothballed in November 1985. 1
At the time of the Young’s High Bridge discontinuance, it was notable for having never been strengthened, modified, or reconstructed. 1
In 1987, the Bluegrass Railroad Museum acquired 5½ miles of the former NS Lawrenceburg Division between the Young’s High Bridge and Versailles with the goal to run passenger excursion trains over the line. 2 8 There were informal talks between the museum and Wild Turkey Distillery about running excursion trains to the distillery which would involve operating over the river crossing, but it would require the strengthening of the bridge to support heavy passenger cars. 8
The non-profit Tyrone Bridge & Railroad Company was formed in 2003 in an attempt to raise money to preserve the Young’s High Bridge as either a rail-trail or as a westward extension of the Bluegrass Railroad Museum’s excursion. 1 4 The non-profit dissolved in 2011 without much action. 2
NS donated the bridge to the Young’s High Bridge Historical Society in July 2008, and the crossing was purchased by Young’s Bridge Partners for $105,000 in October 2012. 4 In January 2013, it was announced that the bridge would be partly converted for use as a base jumping center for Vertigo Bungee.
Now the highest platform bridge jump in North America, the bridge is used for jumps four to ten weeks per year by Vertigo Bungee. 4
- State: Kentucky
- Route: Louisville Southern Railway, Norfolk & Western Railway
- Type: Pratt Deck Truss
- Status: Abandoned / Closed
- Total Length: 1,675 feet
- Main Span Length: 551 feet
- Height: 270 feet from foundation; 281 feet from low water
- Powell, Tim. “Young’s High Bridge, Tyrone, Kentucky.” WorldTimZone. 2006.
- “Track Rehabilitation.” Bluegrass Railroad Museum. 18 Sept. 2007.
- “Young’s High Bridge.” Bluegrass Railroad Museum. 18 Sept. 2007.
- Kocher, Greg. “Old Kentucky River railroad bridge will become bungee-jumping platform.” Herald-Leader [Lexington] 24 Feb. 2013.
- Kentucky Advocate, 22 Mar. 1889, p. 1.
- Kocher, Greg. “Spanning Space & Time.” Herald-Leader [Lexington], 2 Sept. 2003, pp. A1-A4.
- “A Tale of Two Cities.” Daily Leader [Lexington], 25 Aug. 1889, p. 1.
- Crawford, Byron. “Kentucky bridge believed to be the last of its kind.” Courier-Journal [Louisville], 10 Mar. 1989, p. 6.