Big Four Bridge — Louisville, Kentucky

The Big Four Bridge was first conceived in Jeffersonville in 1885 by various city interests. The Louisville and Jeffersonville Bridge Company was formed in 1887 to construct the Big Four Bridge, after a charter by the state of Indiana; Kentucky also chartered the company in 1888. The riverboat industry, a big economic factor in Jeffersonville, had requested that the bridge be built further upstream from the Falls of the Ohio, but the United States Army Corps of Engineers approved the building site, even after the vocal protestations.

Louisville KY

Construction began on October 10, 1888. The Big Four Bridge would be the only Louisville bridge with serious accidents during its building; thirty-seven individuals died during its construction. The first twelve died while working on a pier foundation when a caisson that was supposed to hold back the river water flooded, drowning the workers. Another four men died a few months after that when a wooden beam broke while working on a different pier caisson.

Louisville, Kentucky

The Big Four Bridge had one of the biggest bridge disasters in the United States, occurring on December 15, 1893 when a construction crane was dislodged by a severe wind, causing the falsework support of a truss to be damaged and the truss—with forty-one workers on it—to fall into the Ohio River. Twenty of the workers survived, but twenty-one died. The accident almost cost more lives, as a ferry crossing the Ohio River just barely missed being hit by the truss. Hours later, a span next to the damaged span also fell into the river, but was unoccupied at the time, causing no injuries. As a result, falsework was longitudely reinforced to prevent further occurrences, and also to prevent strong winds from causing similar damage by using special bracing on the bottom frame of the truss. Also, a new rule was enforced: “never trust a bolted joint any longer than is necessary to put a riveted one in place”.

The Big Four Bridge was finally completed in September 1895. Because of the location of the bridge and the growth of the Kennedy Interchange, the interchange had to avoid the columns that were on the approach to the bridge, causing the interchange to have several two-lane ramps rather than a single stretch of highway, and helped earn the nickname Spaghetti Junction. Due to the various accidents, the Louisville and Jeffersonville Bridge Company was financially strapped after building the bridge, and later in 1895 sold it to the Indianapolis-based Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railway, also known as the Big Four Railroad. This gave the railway its first entry into the Louisville market, although the railroad would have likely used the bridge even if they had not bought it, as they desired access to Louisville.

The bridge is now used just for pedestrian traffic.

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