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Looking back, the day a bridge did collapse in Northern Kentucky — and the river ran with blood

Licking Bridge Collapse 1892

Licking Bridge Collapse 1892

The Tribune celebrates Northern Kentucky history, as a way to help us appreciate our past and our heritage and the links to the present.  If you have a story to share, a question we should explore or a piece of history you’d like to write about, contact news@nkytrib.com.

Modern-day Northern Kentuckians have been focused on the safety of the I-75 Bridge, a major north-south thoroughfare carrying 175,000 vehicles daily and over a billion dollars in freight.  It was 50 years old in 2013, has been described at functionally obsolete with one of the highest crash rates in the nation.  Many of those travelers are NKyians and Cincinnatians going back and forth from work and home.  And many argue that replacement and updating of the bridge is long past due.

Go back to 1892 and trolley days when another bridge was important to Covington and Newport – for citizens and commerce moving between the two cities.

Construction was underway on the bridge over the Licking River between 11th street in Newport and 12th street in Covington on June 25, 1892 when it suddenly collapsed without warning.

Thirty-one construction workers were killed.

Witnesses at the time told The Kentucky Journal they felt a trembling sensation, ran for safety of the riverbank and watched the whole thing collapse into the water.  Those working on the top of the bridge survived to swim to safety because they fell with the bridge and not under it.

Emergency crews from Covington, Newport and Cincinnati responded to find bodies everywhere and the river red with blood.  Within two hours 20 bodies were recovered and divers searched for more.

A follow-up report said the piles had not been driven deep enough to support it adequately.

Licking Bridge

Work resumed on the bridge, however, but by a different company at a cost of about $200,000. The Kentucky Post reported on December 17, 1892 that it would soon be opening.

Ironically, it was a tolled bridge.

The bridge was 1000 feet long and 65 feet above the low-water mark of the river.

It was known as the 11th Street Bridge and operated only until May 10, 1914 and plans were drawn up for another bridge which became controversial over the issue of non-union, non-resident labor. The new bridge, constructed around the old one, was wider and had two pedestrian walkways.  It was reportedly safer and the “strongest in the vicinity.”

It was opened on April 7, 1915 and the first public vehicle to cross it was the Green Line trolley.  It was known as the Shortway Bridge.

The Shortway Bridge became state-owned in 1986 when it was purchased for $1.25 million. Tolls were soon eliminated. Construction began in 2000 to replace the bridge, primarily to relieve traffic on the 4th Street Bridge.  Construction was completed in October 2001.

From Kenton County Library archives

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One Comment

  1. Shanna says:

    Remember throwing the Dime the toll booth in the early 70’s.

Reply to Shanna Cancel Reply