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, which had terminal facilities on the Cincinnati side of the river.

In 1897, the bridge’s piers were widened and bigger trusses replaced the original ones.  At the same time, a 20-foot-wide horse and cart path was added along with two streetcar tracks.  One of the streetcar tracks was sandwiched between the cart path and railroad truss; the other cantilevered off the west side of the bridge, outside of the 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 truss remained the same. All piers and approaches were widened to accommodate the expanded deck and new trusses.

The railroad track trusses were rebuilt to carry heavier modern equipment.  On the west side of the bridge, the span was improved and two new streetcar tracks were 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 trusses.  This unusual cantilevered design avoided the need to further widen 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. Shortly thereafter, the west portion of the bridge was improved and repaved to accommodate automobiles.  In the 1940s, streetcar service over the bridge ceased. Thereafter, outside cantilevered track was removed and the center streetcar track became a pedestrian walkway.

The bridge closed to rail traffic in 1987 and this portion of the bridge steadily deteriorated 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, CSX also stopped painting the railroad half of the bridge while the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, which had acquired the automobile portion of the bridge, continued painting this side of the bridge blue, resulting in a blue-and-rust combination bridge during the early 1990s.  Expensive lead removal prevented easy or inexpensive repainting of the rusting trusses.

The bridge in 2001 from the Serpentine Wall.

The giant brick arches underneath the approaches on both sides to the bridge, which were a part of the original construction in the 1800s, were dressed up to be a part of the Bicentennial Commons and Serpentine Wall on the Cincinnati side of the river and now is used as the entranceway into the Newport On The Levee parking garages on the Kentucky side.

In the late 1990s, developers announced plans for the Newport Aquarium and the Newport-on-the-Levee entertainment complex would be built on the Kentucky riverfront between the approaches to the Taylor-Southgate and CSX Bridges. In addition, promoters of light rail saw the potential for the bridge to carry a new line to Newport and Northern Kentucky.  Suddenly, considerable interest arose to save the bridge, and on April 17, 2001, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.  It was also closed permanently to automobiles at that time.

The Purple People Bridge

In late 2001, the City of Newport and Southbank Partners received $4 million in state funds to paint and restore the bridge. CSX donated its portion of the bridge to the City of Newport, which transferred ownership the bridge to the Newport Southbank Bridge Co., which owns and operates the bridge and oversees its maintenance. The company’s board members include members of Southbank Partners, representatives of the City of Newport, and other prominent citizens.

Today, the bridge serves as an instrumental pedestrian link between Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky and is a tourist attraction and event venue that has seen substantial development arise around its footprint.

 

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