: This photograph shows the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge, which links Covington, Kentucky, with Cincinnati, Ohio. Formerly named the Covington-Cincinnati Bridge, the structure was the first Ohio River bridge linking the North and South after the Civil War. This view shows the bridge from the Kentucky side looking toward the downtown Cincinnati skyline. Clearly visible are the suspension cables and one of the bridge towers.
In 1846 the Kentucky General Assembly granted a charter to the founders of the Covington & Cincinnati Bridge Company, which hoped to build a bridge across the Ohio River that would connect the two cities. Cincinnati was a major metropolis by the 1850s, and Kentucky farmers and businessmen hoped to have an easier time transporting their goods to the city.
For various reasons, many Ohioans were less enthusiastic. As a result of this opposition, the Ohio legislature did not grant the Covington & Cincinnati Bridge Company a charter to construct a bridge in 1849. Despite these hurdles, the Covington & Cincinnati Bridge Company persevered, and in 1856 it signed civil engineer John A. Roebling (1806-1869) to construct a suspension bridge. Construction began that year, but it stopped the next year due to the Panic of 1857. Construction resumed during the American Civil War when Ohio and federal government authorities realized the need for a bridge to supply the soldiers operating in the South. Due to the high inflation during the war, Roebling had to pay his workers in gold, and shortages forced him to import some construction materials from England. Workers completed a small footbridge across the Ohio River on September 24, 1865, nearly six months after the war ended. This initial bridge gave construction workers an easier means of stringing the cables.
The Covington & Cincinnati Suspension Bridge was opened to pedestrian traffic on December 1, 1866, but its formal opening occurred a month later. To help offset the construction cost (approximately $1.8 million), the company established tollbooths at both ends of the bridge and charged three cents per person to walk across the span. At the time of its completion, it was the world’s longest suspension bridge (a span of 1,619 feet).
When the Ohio River flooded in 1937, the Covington & Cincinnati Suspension Bridge was the only bridge that remained open along the Ohio River between Steubenville, Ohio, and Cairo, Illinois, a distance of more than eight hundred miles. The bridge was privately operated until Kentucky purchased it in 1953. In 1982 the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet officially renamed it the “John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge.” It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1975.
The Covington & Cincinnati Suspension Bridge is regarded as a prototype for Roebling’s next project, which would become his most famous structure. The New York Bridge Company hired him to design and build a bridge over the East River that would connect Brooklyn and Manhattan. Roebling, however, would not live to see the completion of the world-famous Brooklyn Bridge. He contracted tetanus after being injured on the work site and died in 1869. His son Washington Roebling, a civil engineer, and daughter-in-law Emily Warren Roebling supervised the construction and completion of the bridge, which opened in 1883.
View on Ohio Memory.
: AL06657 Subjects
: John A. Roebling Bridge (Cincinnati, Ohio, and Covington, Ky.); Suspension bridges; National Historic Landmarks Program (U.S.); Roebling, John Augustus, 1806-1869; Bridges; Ohio River Places
: Cincinnati (Ohio); Hamilton County (Ohio)