Yesterday was the 90th anniversary of the opening of a suspension bridge across the Ohio River that links Maysville, Kentucky, and Aberdeen, Ohio. The bridge was named for Simon Kenton (1755-1836), who was a famous frontiersman and soldier from that area.
In 1774, in a conflict later known as “Dunmore’s War,” Kenton served as a scout for settlers against the Shawnee Indians in the area that is now West Virginia and Kentucky. In 1777, he saved the life of Daniel Boone, his friend and fellow frontiersman, at what is now Boonesborough, Kentucky.
During the American Revolution, Kenton served as a scout for the 1778 George Rogers Clark expedition to capture Fort Sackville. Then, Kenton fought in the Northwest Indian War, which took place in 1793-94.
At the age of 55, Kenton moved to Urbana, Ohio, where he achieved the rank of brigadier general of the state militia in 1810. That led to him serving as both a scout and as a militia leader during the War of 1812.
The Simon Kenton Memorial Bridge is a suspension bridge that is 1,991 feet long; its main span is 1,060 feet long. It was designed by the firm Modjeski and Masters. Modjeski designed the McKinley Bridge that was recently profiled by FreightWaves Classics in this article. Modjeski also helped design the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, which was profiled in this recent FreightWaves Classics article.
The bridge carries U.S. Route 62 Business and U.S. Route 68 across the Ohio River. Tolls were collected from the opening of the bridge until 1945.
Pittsburgh-based Dravo Construction Company was the substructure contractor for the bridge; John A. Roebling Sons Company of Trenton, New Jersey was the contractor for the bridge’s superstructure; J. F. Hardymon Company was the contractor for the bridge’s paving, electrical work and also built the toll house. The majority of the steel used on the bridge was shipped to the site from Pittsburgh via the Ohio River.
Opening the bridge
When the Simon Kenton Memorial Bridge opened on November 25, 1931, there was considerable fanfare. The Cincinnati Enquirer reported, “Motorcades and delegations from various parts of [both states] and from neighboring villages on either side of the of the Ohio River began to arrive early and ‘what a day it was!’” The article further noted, “State officials, members of automobile clubs from Cincinnati, Covington, Lexington, Georgetown, Paris and even as far as Louisville came into [Maysville] with banners flying. Drum corps and bands joined in a colorful parade.”
The dedication ceremony occurred on the central section of the bridge. Among the public officials at the event were Ohio Governor George White and Ben Johnson, the chairman of the Kentucky Highway Commission.
“Dedication of this bridge spells a new era for Maysville and for Kentucky itself,” the Cincinnati Enquirer article stated. “By replacing the old steam ferry, which used to be the sole connection between Aberdeen, Ohio, and Maysville, delay is wiped out.”
Maintaining the bridge
According to HistoricBridges.org, the Simon Kenton Memorial Bridge is “one of the few surviving historic suspension bridges on the Ohio River. The graceful structure is a beautiful iconic landmark for the area. The steel towers with bracing consisting of a very large pattern of ‘X’s’ is a feature found among a number of suspension bridges that Modjeski and Masters were involved with.”
The William H. Harsha Bridge was opened nearby in 2000. It now carries all truck traffic using the U.S. Routes. Quite often when a new bridge is built the older bridge is dismantled. However, the Simon Kenton Memorial Bridge was spared. Two bridges provide safety redundancy (in case one bridge has to be closed for some reason). Also, there is additional capacity over the Ohio River, which due to its size doesn’t have many bridges. The newer bridge also reduces the amount of traffic on the historic bridge, increasing its service life.
The Simon Kenton Memorial Bridge was closed for rehabilitation in 2003 and 2004, which included a “deck replacement, structural steel repairs, a new inspection walkway, and a new handrail on the main spans.” In addition, the bridge was painted silver, its original color. At a cost of $5.7 million, National Engineering and Contracting Company completed the rehabilitation construction and painting.
Fast-forward to July 2019; the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet ordered a 3-ton weight limit on the bridge after a routine inspection found “significant safety hazards” in the cable suspension system. The bridge was closed due to corrosion in the suspension cable connectors in November 2019. Then in May 2020, the bridge closing was extended after an inspection of the cable repairs determined that the bridge needed rust-proofing.
The bridge reopened for traffic with a 15-ton weight restriction on June 12, 2020. However, the bridge continues to need major rehabilitation, including replacing all cables.