Have I ever mentioned that I LOVE machinery? I mean it I love machinery, the bigger the better. Trucks, trains, building equipment, and all of the things that go with them. On a recent trip to Louisville I found out there is an old railroad bridge that had been turned into a pedestrian walkway across the Ohio River between Kentucky and Indiana. Well, I just had to visit The Big Four Railroad Bridge, and it was grand.
The Big Four Railroad Bridge was originally built in 1895 between Louisville, KY and Jeffersonville IN. It is a truss bridge that spans over 2500 ft. (770m). It is named after the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railway, which was nicknamed The Big Four Railway. The Big Four Bridge was in use until 1969 when the Penn Central Railroad rerouted all of its traffic over the nearby Fourteenth Street Bridge. Shortly after, both the Kentucky and Indiana approaches were taken down and sold for scrap, leaving a bridge that literally went nowhere.
Jack Boucher [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
In 2011 the governors of Indiana and Kentucky agreed to build pedestrian ramps and create a walkway between the states, and both sides were opened by 2014.
And what a walkway this is. The Kentucky side starts at The Waterfront Park with a long spiral ramp up to the bridge, a climb of about 50 vertical feet (about 5 stories). Walking up the ramp you get wonderful views of the bridge from both the east and west sides, as it circles around for ¼ mile. The ramp is a wonderful introduction to the bridge, tying the brand new park to this historic structure, it brings you up from ground and gives you time to appreciate beautiful architecture of the bridge before you cross it.
Waterfront Park ramp to bridge
The Big Four Bridge itself is a phenomenal example of a classic truss bridge. The riveted steel beams travel vertically and at angles, making balancing the forces of the trains that crossed it. It is comprised of 6 individual spans, the longest of which is 547 feet long. But this is not the original bridge. The Big Four was completely rebuilt in 1929 using an unusual technique. The new bridge was built inside the framework of the old one. This saved time during the construction and allowed the replacement to take less than a year. This method meant that the new bridge was smaller than the original, and could only accommodate one track, instead of the two that it had before. That track is represented today brown stripes of cement down the center of the walkway.
Walking across the Big Four Bridge is a wonderful experience. The Ohio River is one of the biggest in the country, in fact it is almost half a mile wide at this point. It is also a working river, and if you are lucky you might get to see some barges passing by. Just to the north of the bridge is Towhead Island, where barges are tied up waiting to be transferred up or down the river.
The walk across the Big Four Bridge is about one mile long, and if you do it right it should take close to an hour. This is because you really should stop and take in the sights. As you walk across you get some wonderful views of downtown Louisville and the three other bridges that cross the Ohio – The I-65 Bridge, The Clark Memorial Bridge and the 14th Street Train Bridge. Stop and look at how the shadow of the bridge changes as Sun moves across the sky. There are benches where you can sit and look out at the river traffic, or if you turn around, you can watch the people walking by. There are displays along the path giving information about the history and structure of the bridge. But really, the bridge is a place to slow down and take in both natural and man made beauty. It is a place to meditate on life.
When you visit Louisville make sure to get over to Waterfront Park and take a walk across the Ohio on the Big Four Railroad Bridge. It is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon.