The Newport Southbank Bridge – popularly known as The Purple People Bridge – opened on April 1, 1872.  It was Cincinnati’s first railroad bridge spanning the Ohio River.

 

The bridge as originally built in the 1880s. (Photo: Cincinnati-transit.net)

The Newport Cincinnati Bridge

The Newport Cincinnati Bridge was initially owned by the Little Miami Railroad, because railroad company LC&L used its terminal facilities on the Cincinnati side of the river.

In 1897, the bridge’s piers were widened and a bigger truss replaced the original.  A 20 foot wide horse and cart path was added along with two street car tracks.  One of the street car tracks was sandwiched between the cart path and railroad truss; the other was cantilevered off the west side of the bridge, outside of the through truss.

The L&N Bridge in the 1920s (Photo: Cincinnati-transit.net)

The original truss spans were replaced by the dense Pennsylvania Pratt trusses that are seen today.  The number of spans and the length of each remained.  But, all piers and approaches were widened to accommodate an expanded deck width.

The railroad track trusses were rebuilt to carry heavier modern equipment.  A sturdier automobile side and two entirely new street car tracks were also added.  The orientation of the street car tracks became the bridge’s most unusual design feature — the “east” track was sandwiched between the railroad track and automobile lanes, while the “west” street car track cantilevered off the west side of the bridge, outside of the through trusses.  This unusual cantilevered design avoided a further widening of the piers and approaches.

 

 

The L&N bridge in the 1920s. (Photo: Cincinnati-transit.net)

L&N Bridge

In 1904, the bridge was renamed the L&N (Louisville and Nashville) Railroad Bridge.  The cart path was soon after repaved for automobiles.  In the 1940s, streetcar service ceased when the outside cantilever track was removed and the center streetcar track became a pedestrian walkway.

The bridge closed to rail traffic in 1987 and deteriorated steadily during the 1990s.   The L&N Bridge and the railroad itself were acquired by CSX, and although still popularly called the L&N, the bridge was officially renamed the CSX Bridge.

 

The CSX Bridge

After removing the tracks and dismantling the rail approach viaducts,

The bridge in 2001 from the Serpentine Wall.

CSX also stopped painting the railroad half of the bridge while the Kentucky Highway Department (which had been sold the automobile portion) continued painting the automobile side blue, resulting by the early 1990’s in a blue and rust combination.  Expensive lead removal prevented easy repainting of the rusting trusses.

The giant brick arches underneath the bridge that were a part of the original construction in the 1800s on both sides came to dress up Bicentennial Commons and Serpentine Wall on the Cincinnati side, and make up the edges of the Newport On The Levee parking garages on the Kentucky side.

In the late 1990’s developers announced plans for the Newport Aquarium and the Newport-on-the-Levee entertainment complex, to be built on the Kentucky riverfront between the Taylor-Southgate and L&N (CSX) Bridge approaches.  Additionally, light rail planners saw potential for the L&N to carry a new line to Newport.  Suddenly there was considerable interest in saving the bridge, and on April 17, 2001 it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.  It was also closed permanently to automobiles.

 

 

The Purple People Bridge

In late 2001, the city of Newport, Ky., and Southbank Partners, an economic development group, used $4 million in state funds to restore the bridge.  During this time, it was given a new name: The Newport Southbank Bridge. When it was time to decide on what color to paint it, a variety of options were explored. Computer-generated images of the bridge were shown to participants in more than a dozen focus groups, all of whom picked the color purple as a top choice. It was soon became known as the “Purple People Bridge” by area residents.

 

 

You can book your event on the Purple People Bridge by clicking here.