The Curious Histories of 17 Lost Bridges

Cincinnati and surrounding towns had a hard time keeping a good bridge up in the 1800s and early 1900s.

The first bridge across the Mill Creek, a sort of pontoon affair located about where the Sixth Street viaduct now runs, was only two years old when it was demolished by a flood in 1808. It took three years to cobble together the funds for a replacement, an elevated structure opened in 1811. The 1822 flood erased that span. A third bridge was washed away by the 1832 flood and floated down to Louisville, where it was disassembled, towed back to town, and rebuilt, only to be later destroyed by fire.

Original Deer Creek Bridge

Around 1800, the only bridge across Deer Creek (separating downtown from Mt. Adams) was only about 12 feet wide, but quite deep. To protect it from the fate of its Western counterpart on the Mill Creek, the bridge tenders piled loads of stone along the approaches for thirty feet or more each way from the banks. These rocky anchors managed to hold the bridge in place until it was replaced by a more substantial structure.

A decade before John Roebling bridged the Ohio, Covington and Newport collaborated on a suspension bridge over the Licking River.

Ballou’s Pictorial Drawing Room Companion (1856), digitized by Internet Archive

The First Ohio River Bridge

In September 1862, Cincinnati was in full-blown panic. Confederate troops edged ever northward through Kentucky, obviously aimed at an invasion of Union territory at Cincinnati. General Lew Wallace (later to earn fame and fortune as the author of Ben Hur) was in command of the defense of the Queen City. He had abundant troops but no way to get them across the Ohio River to Kentucky. Roebling’s suspension bridge was nothing but unfinished pylons. It was at this moment that Wesley M. Cameron offered to construct a pontoon bridge across the Ohio. Completed in just 30 hours, it was built from coal barges maneuvered into a row across the Ohio with planks laid across them. The bridge ran just east of today’s Suspension Bridge and was wide enough for two Army wagons to pass side-by-side.

Original Suspension Bridge

Cincinnati is justly proud of the iconic Roebling Suspension Bridge, but that wasn’t the first suspension bridge in this area. A bridge linking Covington and Newport over the Licking River opened in 1853, more than a decade before the completion of John Roebling’s masterpiece. On January 16, 1854, it tumbled into the Licking River, along with 18 head of cattle, two drovers, and a couple of commuters on horseback. None of the humans were seriously injured, nor were most of the livestock, but the disaster caused some reconsideration of plans for the Ohio River bridge. The Licking bridge was rebuilt and later reinforced under the supervision of Washington Roebling, John’s son. It was was replaced in the 1880s and again in the 1930s.

Running parallel to Gilbert Avenue, this double-decked viaduct framed the entrance to Eden Park near the Baldwin Piano factory, just visible through the arch.

Postcard digitized by the Public Library of Cincinnati & Hamilton County

Eden Park Bridge

A double-deck stone bridge once crossed the main drive of the Gilbert Avenue entrance to Eden Park. The top deck carried the tracks of the Zoo-Eden streetcars. The lower, seldom used, deck provided an excellent vantage point for pedestrians to view the reservoirs and the Greek Revival rear portions of the Art Museum. The bridge was built in 1874 and demolished in 1949, with piles of fieldstone offered for sale at bargain rates.

Grandin Road Viaduct

Delta Avenue runs downhill in the bed of a stream, now imprisoned by concrete pipes, once known as Crawfish Creek. Over the years, that creek gouged a pretty deep valley between Hyde Park and Columbia-Tusculum. The valley was bridged in 1905, but as early as 1960 the span was seriously showing its age; it was finally demolished in 1975, leaving two orphaned segments of Grandin Road. This lost bridge was also known as the Delta Avenue Viaduct.

Elm Street Bridge(s)

A feature of special occasions in Cincinnati was the construction of elaborate but temporary bridges over Elm Street to connect Music Hall (and its predecessor Exposition Buildings) with Washington Park. Apparently first constructed for the U.S. centennial in 1876, an elaborately ornate covered bridge marked the 1888 centennial of the founding of Cincinnati. Other Elm Street bridges were constructed as late as 1910.

The Little White Bridge

Today, the location of the famous Little White Bridge is buried under interstate highway traffic. At one time, it was a scenic landmark along the upper reaches of the Miami & Erie Canal, connecting the eastern end of 69th Street in Carthage to the grounds of Longview Hospital. Originally constructed of wood in 1860, it was replaced by a metal structure in 1874, still painted white. The color and the destination spawned an idiom: To say that someone “crossed the white bridge” implied they had gone insane. The Little White Bridge was demolished in 1955 when I-75 plowed through the area.

Like all good public works projects from the Boss Cox era, the Liberty Street Viaduct came in over budget, shoddily constructed, and obsolete by the time it opened.

Cincinnati Enquirer (1891), image extracted from microfilm by Greg Hand

Liberty Street Viaduct

The very definition of boondoggle was exemplified by the Liberty Street Viaduct over the Mill Creek. Debated for decades, Hamilton County commissioners finally commenced construction in 1888, but the span wasn’t completed until 1891. At that time, it was the longest bridge ever erected in the county and cost an (at that time) astronomical $135,000. So poorly constructed that the city refused to certify it, the viaduct was barely wide enough for horse-drawn wagons and pedestrians. The shoddy monstrosity lingered in increasingly decrepit condition until 1929, when it was put out of its misery in preparation for construction of the Western Hills Viaduct.

Spring Grove Covered Bridge

Motorists today drive Spring Grove Avenue over the Mill Creek into Northside on an utterly unremarkable span in the shadow of I-74. Up until 1900, however, that route passed through a wooden covered bridge. Although sentimentally scenic, the darkness offered by the timbered superstructure provided excellent hiding places for footpads and highwaymen. According to the newspapers, no traveler would pass over the Spring Grove bridge unless heavily armed, and there was general rejoicing when it was razed.

Harrison Avenue Viaduct

The new Harrison Avenue viaduct wasn’t even finished on August 6, 1908, when someone tried to blow it up. The attempted sabotage was sloppy work. Damage to the steel pillars was minimal, and the shattered concrete plinth was easily replaced. The contractor for the job was a non-union shop, and the foreman told police he thought a union agitator had planted the bomb. He was correct. The International Association of Bridge and Iron Workers, struggling to find a toehold in the construction industry, decided on drastic measures. Between 1905 and 1911, the union detonated nearly 100 explosions in 17 states from Massachusetts to California.

During anti-war demonstrations in 1970, The Bridge at UC was filled to capacity.

Cincinnatian Yearbook (1970), digitized by the University of Cincinnati Archives & Rare Books Library

Tangeman Center Bridge

For those University of Cincinnati alumni of a certain age, memories of “The Bridge” brings a fond tear to the eye. First constructed as part of the 1960s expansion of the Tangeman University Center, the span—formally the Veterans Memorial Bridge—supported parties, demonstrations, speeches, picnics, concerts, and courtships until it was demolished in 2001 to make way for a pedestrian plaza. A short little span now connects the Tangeman Center to UC’s College-Conservatory of Music. It bears the old Veterans Memorial Bridge plaque, but it just isn’t the same.

An Electric Bridge

The Findlay Street bridge over the Miami & Erie Canal was accidentally electrified in 1904 when an overhead trolley wire came undone and draped across the iron railing of the bridge. A drove of hogs refused to cross the sparking structure, squealing as they lifted one foot at a time trying to shake off the tingling current. Horses unleashed showers of sparks from their horseshoes as they pranced over the bridge, leaping about like frisky colts until a passing electrician finally shut off the current. Like all the other canal bridges, it was demolished during the construction of Central Parkway.

Bridgetown Trestle

Can we still call it Bridgetown if there is no bridge? Although this Green Township community took its name from Bridgeton, New Jersey, hometown of some early settlers, Bridgetown was identified for decades with a Chesapeake & Ohio railroad trestle that straddled the intersection of Glenway, Race, and Bridgetown roads. The last train rolled over the trestle in 1981, but the structure lingered, blocking traffic signals and hosting hordes of pigeons for a while until it was finally razed in 1984.

Central Bridge

The Central Bridge, also known as the Cincinnati-Newport Bridge, was constructed in 1890 and ran from the foot of Ludlow Street on the Cincinnati side to York Street on the Newport side. Built to handle horse-and-buggy traffic, the span was woefully outclassed by automobiles and its wooden deck regularly caught fire because of discarded cigarettes. A good-sized crowd braved frigid temperatures to watch the demolition of this landmark on several days in March 1992. It was replaced by the functional yet uninspiring Taylor-Southgate Bridge.

Queen City Avenue Bridge

Over the years, the Mill Creek has been spanned by a menagerie of mostly decrepit bridges that, despite their utter disregard for safety, became essential routes into the Western Hills. The Queen City Avenue Bridge was one such atrocity. By the early 1900s, it was so deteriorated that only one automobile or streetcar could cross it at any one time. When a new Harrison Avenue Viaduct was built in 1908, the city wanted to demolish its Queen City Avenue neighbor, but the Lunkenheimer Valve Company objected, claiming the bridge was essential for transporting products.

The Authentic Lost Bridge

Ironically, the only local bridge actually called “The Lost Bridge” is not lost. It’s right there as Lawrenceburg Road crosses the Great Miami River south of Elizabethtown. True, this is the fourth bridge erected at that crossing and, true, one of its predecessors burned and another was washed away in a flood, but the bridge itself has been pretty much there the whole time. What’s been lost is a universally accepted rationale for calling it the lost bridge.

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