View Of Bridge, Looking Southwest From The Indiana Side
HAER photos taken July 1988 by David Beatty
Photo taken by Historic American Engineering Record
View photos at Library of Congress
BH Photo #129547
This bridge had some other issues behind its design and construction. The reason it was a suspension bridge was because the Wabash Navigation Act was still on the books (until 1962). This meant any bridges (including railroads) south of Terre Haute had to provide clearance for steamers coming up river. Railroads simply built swingspans and many of the wagon/car crossings used ferries. The Army Corp of Engineers shut down the Grand Rapids (Mt Carmel) Lock in 1931 and tore out the dam, so no steamers could pass through. But the law was still on the books and due to the depression and and WW2, any changes were delayed. In 1946 the Corp of Engineers turned over the rights of the Wabash River to the TVA. The TVA eventually renounced any interest in the Wabash but the New Harmony Bridge was built in 1953, (and the Lincoln Memorial bridge in Vincennes in 1932) which was built for shipping clearance because the law remained.
I found a souvenir program on ebay from the opening of the bridge. I had to buy it.
My grandmother was originally from Sullivan County, Indiana and was born in 1939, the same year as the bridge was built. When I was a child we would travel North up Route 1 from Maunie, White County, Illinois to see her family in Fairbanks, Shelburn and Sullivan Indiana. I was always excited to cross this bridge. It is one of my earliest memories of loving and appreciating Historical Bridges. My mother preferred to take 41 North but my grandmother and I preferred to take what she referred to as the Scenic Route via Hutsonville.
When one of my sisters and I were small my great aunt Thelma would take us for a walk when she babysat. Somehow my sister would whine enough we always ended up on top of the bridge. I hated it. When a car or truck would drive across the entire thing shook and of course made all sorts of noises. I just knew that bridge would collapse with me on top of it. My sister on the other hand loved it. She would crawl all over the bars on it and would have climbed up it if anyone had let her. One thing I will say it had was character. Much more than the new one. I hated to see it go and was right there a block away when they blew it up.
When I was little, crossing the Hutsonville bridge in my parents' car terrified me. It had that high, climbing arch in the middle that pictures never seem to do justice, and with my fast-driving dad at the wheel, it felt like we were being launched to someplace I most certainly didn't want to go. With the bridge quivering and making spooky noises all around me, thinking I would surely die, I always mustered the courage to peek out the back seat window at the murky, infamous Wabash far below. Once across and back on solid ground, I breathed a sigh of relief as we passed the toll booth that sat smack dab in the middle of the road on the Indiana side of the bridge. The toll taker, as I remember, was a tall, lanky man who seemed made for the narrow, wooden toll booth. He always smiled and waved to us with his one good arm as if he too was happy that we made it across the bridge safely. Just below his right elbow on the other arm was a shiny, sliver hook, a misfortune I was sure somehow involved the bridge.
As kids we stood in the middle of the bridge against the rail, 30+ feet over the moving, serious river, while two, maybe three loaded Gibson Coal trucks crossed from Indiana, always going too fast so as to beat the lights that had been put at each end of the bridge to reduce traffic to one lane. The bridge groaned and shook as if it was alive and felt pain. When the loaded-down trucks hit the middle of the span, never as far apart from each other as they should've been, the deck felt like it dropped a good 2-3 feet under us. Once the trucks were across, the forgiving bridge rose back to its usual position, as if it were a big spring, which basically it was. When loaded, the arched deck dropped and straightened, pushing out toward the ends, and the simple cable system supporting the whole crazy thing stretched and relaxed like so many rubber bands. Feet planted, hands gripping the rail, we felt brave.
My grandfather told me a story about the day the bridge was opened in 1939. Everyone in town, and then some, turned out for the ribbon cutting cermony. Politicians and dignitaries galore. The bridge was packed with people from one end to the other and my grandfather was so sure that it would collapse from the weight that he forbid my mother (who was 16 at the time), my grandmother, and my mother's younger sister from going out onto the bridge. They, of course, weren't about to miss out on the excitement. In other words, they ignored him. Having grown up in Hutsonville, and having spent a lot of time in relation to the bridge, I can understand why my grandfather was concerned. It really didn't look all that sturdy, and being that it was designed to flex and move, it didn't always feel so sturdy either. More to come.
What is interesting is that the bridge had a 20 ton load limit. However, trucks hauling coal to the C.I.P.S power plant in Hutsonville ran it so much, Indiana DOT would pull them over under a tree on IN- 154 approx 1 mile before the bridge for an inspection. This probably led to the deterioration of the bridge after only 50 years.
Also, when it was built, it was a toll bridge. the tolls were later removed.
I have used material from this page in constructing a Wikipedia article about this bridge...
(soon to be moved into articlespace but the redirected link should work fine)
Please advise if that's an issue (all text is paraphrased, and checked against HAER). If you're interested in improving the coverage of bridges, especially obscure, cool ones like this one, please consider becoming a contributor there...