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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Revisiting Henderson's Past: Railroad Bridge

It's time to take another peek into the archives ...

Coal Smoke, Valve Oil, & Steam

The Civil War and the personal and material losses which accompanied it left many families in Henderson, Kentucky, as destitute as so many other people in cities and towns across the United States. However, the resilient river economy was quick to recuperate and by the 1880s contemporary technology of the post-war era was rapidly changing the means by which the city commercialized. Prior to the war and for some years thereafter, Hendersonians had relied upon steamboats to transport the majority of their exports. In 1885, though, the completion of the first railroad bridge across the Ohio River between Henderson and Evansville, Indiana, all but obliterated the need for riverboats.

On August 20, 1860, the first rail for the new Henderson and Nashville Railroad line was laid, but, partially because of the interruption caused by the Civil War, the bridge was not completed until 25 years later. Under the supervision of a proficient engineer by the name of George Washington Gale Ferris, operatives generated an impressive span running from Fourth Street to the Indiana side of the river. Ferris was later noted for the invention which he premiered at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, the Ferris wheel.

The railroad had a monumental impact on Henderson’s industry. Shipments of tobacco and other goods which once took days to exchange by steamboat could now be delivered in hours. The economy boomed, and Henderson prospered. The bridge stood until the 1930s, when it was replaced by a larger, modern bridge just a few yards to its south. This bridge is in operation today and can be seen from the riverfront. Nearby, on Water Street, visitors can also see a representation of the Louisville and Nashville Union Station, now inhabited by the Henderson County Historical and Genealogical Society and the Henderson Tourism Office.

Photo is of the old railroad bridge crossing the Ohio River at Fourth Street.

To learn more about the railroad’s history in Henderson or to see more photos like the one above, come visit us at the library. Also, feel free to visit our genealogy page or read previous “Revisiting Henderson’s Past” entries.

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