A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Purple People Bridge now features a state border line and historical plaque on 200-year boundary dispute

The newest feature on the Purple People Bridge is a purple state border line that allows you to firmly plant one foot in the Commonwealth of Kentucky and the other in State of Ohio at same time.

The bridge also features new welcome signs for both states along with a historical plaque that describes the nearly 200-year-old border dispute between the two states, which the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately settled in 1980 after 15 years of litigation.

Cincinnati Vice Mayor David Mann and Newport Mayor Jerry Peluso shake hands while standing n their respective sides of the state borders on the Purple People Bridge at Thursday’s cermony (photo by Mark Hansel).

“Because the border between Ohio and Kentucky is actually located in the Ohio River, this is one of the few places along the whole border where you can actually stand with one foot in each state,” said Jack Moreland, president of Southbank Partners and the Newport Southbank Bridge Company, the nonprofit organization that owns and operates the bridge.

Moreland believes the new bridge feature, which is located on the north end of the bridge about 250 from the Cincinnati shoreline, will be popular attraction for both local bridge users and visitors to the area, and he envisions these bridge users taking photos of themselves at the border line to share with their friends and families on their social-media channels.

“Like the bridge itself and our ‘love lock’ area, this new state-border feature on the bridge is free and open to the public,” Moreland said. “It’s a fun way to recognize the border that separates our two states, but at the same time, it’s a wonderful way for us to remind everyone that we not that far apart and that we, as a region, are all in this together.”

The border that separates the two states has a long and complicated history. For many years, Kentucky claimed that the entire river belonged to the Commonwealth, and as a result, Kentucky received nearly all revenue from fishing, boating, liquor, and other licenses granted to use on any portion of the river. Ohio and Indiana disagreed and ultimately filed a federal lawsuit to determine the actual boundary between the states.

In 1980, the Supreme Court ruled the state line between was the river’s low-water mark on the Ohio/Indiana shore in 1792, the year Kentucky became a state. Because the river level had been raised since that time as a result of construction of locks and dams and other factors, today’s boundary line is located in the Ohio River near Ohio and Indiana shorelines. In some places, it hugs the shoreline less than 100 feet from the shore and in other areas it extends to than 500 feet from the shoreline, based on surveys conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from 1896 to 1914.

The half-mile long bridge over the Ohio River was opened in 1872 – seven years after the end of the Civil War — as the first railroad bridge spanning the river between Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. It was later expanded to accommodate pedestrians, horse carts, streetcars, and ultimately, automobiles.

The bridge closed to rail traffic in 1987 and automobile traffic in 2001. Shortly thereafter, the City of Newport and Southbank Partners acquired the bridge from the Commonwealth of Kentucky and CSX Railroad, made improvements to it, and repainted it purple. It reopened as a pedestrian-only bridge on April 26, 2003, as the Newport Southbank Bridge, but it was soon familiarly known as the Purple People Bridge.

For more information about the new state-border feature on the Purple People Bridge, visit the Purple People Bridge website.

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