My Town Monday: The Bridges of Hamilton County

Cincinnati is a city of bridges. There is even a neighborhood called Bridgetown on the Westside. It’s only natural. The Queen City sits on the southern border of Ohio, which is the northern shore of the Ohio River. So bridges are mandatory. How many bridges are there between Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky?

Nine. Ten, if you count the railway crossing on the Clay Wade Bailey Bridge as a separate span.

So what are they?

Let’s take a look after the jump.

More at the My Town Monday blog.

Starting from the extreme eastern edge of Hamilton County, the twin spans of the Combs-Hehl Bridge carry the I-275 Loop from Clermont County and Anderson Township into Ft. Thomas, Kentucky. If you live in the outer eastern suburbs, you have the dubious distinction of having a shortcut downtown that goes through another state. Just beyond the Combs-Hehl, I-471 begins, a five-mile spur that merges with I-71 in downtown Cincinnati.

On the Ohio side, the neighborhood at the foot of the bridge is called California. That’s right. There’s a California in Ohio. Trust me, quiet and quaint as it is, it bears no resemblance to the state.

It’s only six miles by highway to our next bridge, but probably more like ten miles by river. Crossing from Newport into downtown and carrying 471 to its northern terminus is the Daniel Carter Beard Bridge, better known as the Big Mac Bridge. Why?

Well, look at it.

McDonald’s couldn’t buy that kind of inadvertent advertising.

Our next bridge stopped carrying trains in the 1980’s and road traffic in the 1990’s. During its lifetime, it’s also carried streetcars and carriages. It’s now a pedestrian bridge. It’s the former L&N Bridge, now the Newport Southbank Bridge, but popularly known as the Purple People Bridge.

The Purple People Bridge ends on one side of the Newport on the Levee complex. On the opposite side is the fairly recent (1995) Taylor-Southgate Bridge. Whereas the Purple People Bridge is a relic, the Southgate Bridge, which extends Broadway into Newport, replaced the equally busy Central Avenue Bridge. Both spans, which had pedestrian walkways, connected Newport to what is now US Bank Arena, Great American Ball Park, and GABP’s predecessor, Riverfront Stadium.

One of my earliest memories of living in Cincinnati was hanging out at a barge restaurant to watch them demolish the central span of the old bridge. Later that day, I spotted myself with the back to the camera on CNN, as far as I know, my only television appearance.

Further west, connecting downtown Covington to Cincinnati’s Banks, is the city’s most historic bridge, the Roebling Suspension Bridge.

If its lines look familiar, it’s because the Roebling was the prototype for the Brooklyn Bridge. John Roebling was commissioned in the 1850’s to build a span that would carry cross-river traffic above steamboat traffic. Construction was interrupted by the Civil War, but the bridge opened as a toll bridge in 1866 and became a free span only in 1963. Roebling thought ahead. The original set of cables and bridge deck had a much lower load limit than today’s 30 tons, but the towers still exceed those specifications a full 145 years after the bridge opened to traffic.

At the western edge of downtown are the twin bridges of the Clay Wade Bailey Bridge and the C&O Bridge, which are almost one span. Walking the pedestrian walkway on the Clay Wade, you can feel the heavy vibration of freight trains crossing the C&O side. The Clay Wade looms large over the Cincinnati Bengals practice facility, and on certain days, you can watch the team workout from the walkway. The Spence marks the westernmost boundary of downtown Cincinnati and Covington.


Our next bridge may not be here in fifteen years. Or it may be converted to light rail and or surface street connection. The Brent Spence Bridge is one of the most important crossings on the Ohio River, linking Ohio and Michigan to the South. Built in the 1960’s, the bridge is rapidly approaching the end of its functional life span as part of I-75. Driving across the Spence is an adventure as it is also where I-71 merges with I-75 heading into Kentucky.

Next up is a railroad-only bridge, the Cincinnati Southern Bridge, used by the Norfolk Southern Railroad. Rolling out of the industrial Mill Creek Valley, its one of the oldest functioning bridges in Cincinnati, and driving along River Road, you can see the remains of a separate span whose columns still stand.

Our final bridge is not in the city. It’s not even in Hamilton County. In fact, it’s not in Ohio. It’s in Indiana. On the western side of the I-275 Loop, the Caroll Cropper Bridge serves as a western bookend to the Combs-Hehl Bridge, connecting the gambling mecca of Lawrenceburg, Indiana to Boone County, Kentucky. A twin tied-arch span, it bears closer resemblance to the Big Mac Bridge than the Combs-Hehl’s truss spans. Without the Cropper, one would have to drive twenty miles west to Vevay, Indiana to cross the Meldahl Dam or ten miles into Ohio to use the Anderson Ferry to cross the Ohio and get to Cincinnati Airport in Boone County.

As mentioned, the Anderson Ferry still runs, the only ferry beyond a few water taxis in Newport still running in this part of state. The Anderson Ferry began operation in 1817, when future president William Henry Harrison was still helping to build the nearby village of Cleves. Harrison is buried only a few miles away in North Bend.

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2 thoughts on “My Town Monday: The Bridges of Hamilton County

  1. Fun history! Thanks for sharing.

    The Brent Spence bridge has given me the creeps ever since the I35W bridge collapse, and one of our newspapers noted that the Brent Spence carries something like 10x the traffic it was designed for. But I still drive on it. Now if I got stopped in traffic on it…

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