Louisville & Jeffersonville Bridge Company

Louisville & Jeffersonville Bridge Company
Item# 305

Close Up of Vignettes

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 protestation.

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.

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 abandoned 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.

One effect of the opening of the Big Four Bridge was increased transportation of freight by rail, significantly decreasing the number of packet boats that at one time crossed the Ohio River by the dozens.

On February 19, 1904, a Baltimore and Ohio train accidentally crossed the Big Four Bridge, due to engineer Dick Foreman falling asleep and going the wrong way at Otisco, Indiana. The fireman kept shoveling coal and did not pay attention. It was the conductor that finally noticed the error midway across the Big Four Bridge. The wayward train had to back up all the way back to Otisco.

On September 12, 1905, the first interurban crossed the Big Four Bridge. In January 1918, two interurbans collided on the Big Four Bridge, killing three and injuring twenty aboard.

Due to the increasing weight of the rail traffic, contracts were finalized in June 1928 to build a bigger Big Four Bridge, which opened on June 25, 1929. The new Big Four Bridge was built on the piers of the old bridge, a "novel building process", as it sped up the time necessary to build the new bridge; the old one served to reinforce the new one as it was being built. The old piers would still be used, but the falsework was entirely removed. During construction, the Big Four Bridge's usual rail traffic was routed over the Kentucky & Indiana Terminal Bridge. The interurbans that used the Big Four Bridge would instead disembark at Sellersburg, Indiana and have the passengers board buses into Louisville for the duration of the Big Four's reconstruction.

Certificate: Capital Stock, unissued/uncanceled, 1800’s

Printer: New York Bank Note Company

Dimensions: 8” (h) x 11 3/4” (w)

State: KY-Kentucky

Subject Matter: Bridge and Tunnel Companies | Dated 1800’s | Unissued Pieces

Vignette Topic(s): Train Featured | Eagle Featured | Multiple Scenes

Condition: No fold lines or cancels, and some toning and edge faults from age.

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