Fourth Street Bridge History

Fourth Street Bridge History

By Jim Reis-reprinted here with his permission from
Pieces of the Past-Volume 2 pages 171-173


Fourth Street Bridge


Picture this: The Suspension Bridge collapses just weeks after it opens.  It did happen, but the "Suspension Bridge" was not John A Roebling's span over the Ohio River.  The bridge that fell was an earlier span constructed across the Licking River between Fourth Street in Covington and Fourth Street in Newport.  The existing bridge between Newport and Covington, commonly known as the Fourth Street Bridge, opened in 1936.  But the first bridge at that location dates to the incorporation of Newport and Covington Bridge Company January 1, 1852.

The company hired J Gray of Pittsburgh to design the bridge.  In March 1853, construction started on a 902 foot suspension bridge under the direction of George C Tarvin.  The bridge, although not completed, opened on December 28, 1853.

A couple of weeks later, on the evening of January 16, Taylor Keys and Henry Clinkum were riding horses across the bridge from Covington to Newport.  At the Newport end, a few men were driving 18 head of cattle onto the bridge.  Without warning, the cable supports gave way and the main section of the bridge fell.  Keys and Clinkum were thrown into the river.  Four of the cows drowned, but the men driving the cattle had not stepped onto the main section.

Keys was injured but was pulled from the Licking River by Jack Harrison, who witnessed the accident and jumped in to save Keys.  Although Clinkum had dropped 40 feet into the river, he landed sitting on his horse.  Clinkum clung to the horse and it pulled him out of the river.  Clinkum later told The Covington Journal he would not sell the horse for $1000.  Damage to the bridge was estimated at $14,000.  Repairs were made and the bridge reopened.

The bridge was renovated several times during the next two decades.  Some of the work apparently bordered on almost a complete reconstruction.  One renovation came in the early 1870s when the cities of Covington and Newport each passed a $75,000 bond issue and jointly purchased the bridge.

On August 23, 1923, The Kentucky Post lobbied to convince Covington and Newport officials to end tolls for people riding across the bridge.  The toll for pedestrians was lifted the previous January.  An editorial August 23 said the cities charged 12 cents per vehicle, which generated more than $10,000 a year for each city.  The interest on the bonds floated to buy and repair the bridge cost each city $2,750 a year.  The editorial said the bridge should operate as a non-profit public service with the revenue just covering expenses.

Newport officials supported eliminating the tolls, but it took three years to convince Covington officials.  In February 1926, the cities agreed to end tolls on the Fourth Street Bridge. Toll collector Charles Fischer of 3911 Gilbert Avenue of Covington, collected the last toll just before midnight on March 1, 1926.  A few minutes later J B Schroeder of 1723 Holman of Covington, became the first person to drive toll-free across the bridge.

The Kentucky Post said one truck driver, not aware of the new policy, stopped at the toll booth and pounded on its door trying to get someone's attention.  Finally a passerby yelled "save your dough, the bridge is free."  The newspaper said other drove slowly over the bridge and kept a constant, watchful eye over their shoulder, expecting a toll collector to chase them.

In addition to saving commuters pocket change, lift the toll increased casual visits between Newport and Covington.  The Covington YMCA said its membership increased as Newport residents found it was easier to go to Covington than to the YMCA in Cincinnati.  The same year a new six inch flooring was installed on the bridge, two inches thicker than the old floor, and a new girder and bracing was installed on the Covington ed to increase bridge strength.

But those repairs only hid major problems, and the cities began lobbying the state to replace the bridge.  In June 1933, J Lyter Donaldson announced Northern Kentucky was getting $675,000 in state highway funds.  Included was $250,000 for a new Licking River bridge at Fourth Street.  The Fourth Street Bridge was scheduled to close in September 1934 so it could be razed and the new bridge built.  But it was delayed to give Citizens Bell Telephone Company time to remove its lines on the bridge and to replace them with a line laid on the Licking River bed.

The project also touched off a squabble over salaries for construction workers.  The prevailing wage at the time in Northern Kentucky was 45 cents an hour for unskilled labor, 75 cents for semi-skilled and $1.20 for skilled labor.  The state, in charge of the project, set the wage scale at 40 cents, 50 cents, and 60 cents.

The bridge finally closed October 17, 1934.  It also marked the end of the popular Crosstown streetcar line linking downtown Covington to downtown Newport as there were no plans for streetcar lines on the new span.  After that streetcar traffic between Newport and Covington was via the Belt Line, which went over the Eleventh Street Shortway Bridge.

E W Carron and Sons of Covington was awarded the demolition contract for the 700 ton steel bridge at Fourth Street.  Temple Foundation Company of Cincinnati began construction in November 1935.  In the early hours of November 23, the project claimed its first victim.  A crane bucket loaded with timbers, weighing 500 pounds, slipped from its cable and tumbled 50 feet into a cofferdam on the Covington side of the bridge.  Lindsey Duncan, a 38 year old carpenter from Decoursey Pike in Kenton County, was instantly killed.  Two others, J H Morgan, 47 of 510 Scott Street in Covington, and Harry Jackson, 45 of 1720 Garrard Street of Covington, suffered back and shoulder injuries, but survived.

The middle section of the bridge was completed by June 1936 and three days later a second bridge worker died.  Clyde Martin Trimble, 49 of 535 W. Sixth Street of Covington, was hired the day before the accident.  Trimble had one eye and at first was refused work.  He persisted and was hired.  He was walking on iron rods on the top middle span of the bridge, when he slipped.  He fell 80 feet into the Licking River, striking the scaffolding around the bridge as he fell.  A passerby pulled Trimble from the river, but he was pronounced dead at the scene by Dr. W A Krieger of Newport.

The Fourth Street Bridge was officially named "World War Veterans Memorial Bridge" and dedicated July 23, 1936.  The first driver across was Kenton County Health Official Dr. Theodore Sallee.

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