History :

     

     "Save the bridge", this could be the battle cry for thousands of people who have worked for Illinois Central Railroad Company over the years. In the small town of Blackford, KY a railroad bridge that provided a way to work or school, and was also used to transport troops, farm animals, grain, and coal was in a struggle for its life.

The first bridge was a Draw Bridge constructed by the Ohio River Valley Railroad.  It could raise and turn to allow large Boats to pass under its huge structure.  Its construction was initiated by Dr. P.G. Kelsey, President of Ohio Valley Railroad from Sturgis, Ky.  Construction began in 1886 but its date of completion is unknown, however the Princeton- Henderson line (on which it is located) was completed and opened for business in November 1887. In 1892 the Ohio River Valley Railroad sold out to Chesapeake Ohio Southwestern Railroad, and in the same year was purchased by Illinois Central Railroad Company.  A deed was not finalized until 1896 according to Glenn Martin, President of Caldwell County Railroad Historical Society.  

The first official document requesting a renewal of the now Illinois Central Railroad bridge came in 1911.  The official request was made by a Mr. L.W. Baldwin.  He recommended that the ICRR take the matter up with the government and request permission to replace the Draw-span across Tradewater River at Blackford, KY.  The ICRR had two good reasons to replace the Draw-span.  (1) ICRR contemplated the use of a heavier class of Locomotive.  (2) The residents of Blackford were desirous of constructing a Highway bridge in this vicinity, due to cost it would have to be a fix-span.  The original petitioners hoped the ICRR would build a highway bridge alongside the Railroad Bridge.  Discovering later this was not going to happen they decided to put up a fight to force the railroad to build it by signing a remonstrance to the original petition.  The remonstrance was largely viewed as a counter irritant, and plans for the new Bridge proceeded without delay.  The bridge was authorized by Section 9, an act of Congress, on March 3, 1899.  It also required the approval of the Secretary of War and the Chief of Engineers.  The approval was granted by the acting Secretary of War, Henry Breckenridge, on July 6, 1914.  

The old hand hewn sandstone block piers and turning mechanisms were left in place in case future plans to dredge the river materialized thus allowing even larger vessels.  Unlike the old bridge, the new bridge promised greater strength, greater height, and built to accommodate the traffic of pedestrians.  The bridge at the lowest water point rises 70.7 ft to the top of its girders.  Huge steel beams, provided by Louisville Bridge and Iron Works rest on mammoth sandstone, rising majestically above the water level supporting the ties, rails, and girders. The length of the new bridge was 528 ft including the walkway.  It was the largest bridge of its kind ever to cross the Tradewater River and its reconstruction was meant to accommodate not only the railway, but citizens as well.  In a letter from the Chief Engineer of Illinois Central Railroad, B. Baldwin, to the Secretary of War, L.M. Garrison, Mr. Baldwin reports:  "I am advised that the residents of Blackford are desirous of constructing a highway bridge across the Tradewater River in the near vicinity of this structure, and that the county commissioners propose to request authority for the construction of a fixed bridge, if they have not already done so."  It would not be the last time the people of Blackford would be promised a highway-bridge and have their hopes dashed once again.  As promised the people of Blackford got their railroad bridge complete with a walkway for pedestrians, but not large enough for wagons and teams as had previously been hoped. Reconstruction began July 6, 1914 and completed in that same year according to C.L. Ringo Jr. whose father was an original signer of a petition to authorize Illinois Central Railroad Company to renew their bridge across Tradewater River.  No record of the day, month and year construction was completed has yet been discovered.   

Many people who lived in Crittenden County got their mail and sent their children to school at Blackford.  The bridge, less than one mile from Highway 60, cut the distance to Marion, KY in half.  The trading town was growing in leaps and bounds and the railroad was prepared to take advantage of the largest trading town in Webster County providing a large depot and putting in a Triangle, the only place a train could turn around in almost a hundred miles. Although the bustling little town was still mostly horse back in 1914, it envisioned the need for a highway bridge to carry wagons and teams across Tradewater River.  Citizens were born, raised, and died around this bridge that fed them by providing jobs for mothers and fathers.  The bridge gave security and hope for a better day... it made the small town of Blackford accessible for the country people from Crittenden County who dreaded the long ride to Marion by horse back, It also allowed the Railroad access to large Coal fields in Union & Webster Counties.  Blackford provided six doctors, a livery stable, two blacksmith shops, five hotels, a drugstore, restaurants, dry goods, six grocery stores, hardware stores, a courthouse, dentists, a millenary shop, a flour mill, a theater, four churches and one of the strongest banks in the state. The busy little town thrived around the bridge that linked it to Crittenden County, but its progress was interrupted by the 1937 flood which devastated the town.  The water marks from the 1913 flood (El. 361.8 ft.) were plainly marked on the creosote pile piers.  The watermarks of the 1937 flood (El. 368.0 ft.) would be marked high on the girders.  

The Illinois Central Railroad Bridge had recorded a calendar of events that would mark the rise and fall of a small community.  As the oldest surviving structure of the small town, it had indeed become a landmark.  Through the years Blackford called on the Webster County Fiscal Court to seek grants or loans to establish a vehicle bridge across Tradewater as a link to Highway 60.  The failure to construct a bridge across the river isolated a town from Crittenden and Union Counties, until a group of citizens, led by Brent Witherspoon, fought to save the bridge and have it restored. We hope to have the bridge re designated as the “Veteran’s Memorial Bridge” and its right of way to be named in honor of a Korean War POW/MIA PFC Thomas R. Robertson.  It will be the first street, building or bridge to honor a Korean War Veteran in Crittenden or Webster County.  This bridge is eligible for the National Historic Register even though we have not submitted an application.  It is a task that should be completed.

                                                                                                                                                                Researched by

Brent Witherspoon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Copyright 2006 Blackford Veteran's Memorial Bridge Project. All rights reserved.
Revised: 10/29/06.