4/31/17 Found the crossing by accident returning from a business trip. It was worth the dollar to cross and the highlight of the day.
It was my dad, Art Stangle, along with his brother, Frank, who acquired the right-of-way for this bridge. It's true that it was an old railroad bridge that had been unused for quite a number of years. I was about 25 when this project began. Dad and Uncle Frank and my brother, Jerry, plus a hardy group of helpers, took up the rails, saved them, eventually Dad cut them with a welding torch to make the side rails for safety. Two plank lanes were laid to drive on. These required frequent fixing for safety. All this required Dad's vision and know-how, along with Frank's...and my brother, Jerry's. My Dad and uncle had started a grain-drying business on the property Dad and Mother owned and with that, they started buying grain, drying it and then having it trucked to Henderson, KY to the Wathan (I think that's the correct name) Elevator there. Also by drying corn and soy beans, they got those products to market earlier, which enabled them to earn a living. It grew from there to a much bigger operation. Grain drying, buying, selling and transport to bigger markets. It saved the IL farmers a lot of mileage to come across the Wabash via the bridge, instead of having to drive either to Vincennes, IN or to Mt. Carmel IL to get across via a bridge down to Cathlinette Road, 7 miles south of Vincennes. True, there was a ferry, but it wasn't big enough to handle the heavier loads of grain, and impossible if the Wabash was either too low or too high. I grew up about 2 or 3 miles from that landing. It could be a challenge sometimes for the ferry master to dock that ferry. That stretch of the Wabash can be a very fickle river.
There was a disaster at the elevator one night in mid-November 1965. I don't know if a cause was ever discovered, but the elevator caught fire. There were various possibilities. But the end result was that the elevator burned to the ground. Our house, across the driveway was spared when the Christian Brothers from Vincennes and a couple of priests and able-bodied guys, got up on the roof of the house and hosed it down. They also found live embers in the attic and stomped them out. Their heroic efforts saved the house. There was another big happening that night... the New York city blackout, when all the radio and TV stations were knocked off the air. November 9, 1965, I think.
Dad did everything he could think of to try to get all the farmers paid for the grain that was lost. Such a hard, sad time. Eventually he went bankrupt. In May of 1971, our dad was diagnosed with a very deadly cancer...up until then, he was still working to save the business. Dad lived about 6 weeks after he was diagnosed...it was my honor to have taken care of my Dad during those last few weeks. The hardest job one can have is to see you Dad die so young and still with hopes and dreams. He was a remarkable, generous, kind man, who really did follow his dream.
my grandfather isaac caldwell and his father ran a ferry at the river. this bridge put him out of buisness. never could understand how people would put the welfare of their families ahead of saving a few minutes. things change though. he would shut the ferry down in the winter when the river would freeze. climate change put a end to that
The Bridge is beautiful after a good blanket of snow and the pieces of ice floating down the Wabash River.
At Christmas time going to my Parents home, my daughter, Cynthia, my husband and I would sing the song; Over The River and Through the Woods to Grand Mother's house we go.... Lots of memories.
I spent many summers playing on and around this bridge in the late 50s and early 60s. My grandfather (Leland Gray) and his two sons (Gene and Mort Gray) had a wonderful, homemade houseboat just north of it. We spent many nights up there fishing and running several trotlines. At that time it was still being used by trains. I've made the drive across it innumerable times and every trip is enjoyable.
Try crossing this on a Honda Goldwing! Very nerve racking staying on the one side of the planks while also trying to avoid splits between the wood. Trikes could not cross here!
I went over the Cannonball Bridge in October 2011. If you stand on the wooden deck, you can easily figure out that you can fit your foot throught the spaces between the wood in the middle. We had to turn around right in front of the bridge (because we avoided paying the toll) and drove back over it into Indiana. The bridge is used by quite a lot of people!
Heard about the bridge for years, finally crossed it today, was a bit nerve wracking. It probably doesn't help that the river was way over flood stage and had a chunk of lawrence county under water. I would have liked to take my time and enjoy the view, but I hurried along my way instead. Maybe ill return when the water is where it should be. Definately worth $1 to experiance though.
I was involved either directly or indirectly in engineering work from 1991 to 2006 to help get it re-opened and some maintenance items since it re-opened. Photo is from 2002.
I was at Vincennes University 89-91. Had some great times out at Purple Head bridge (you see... there was this girl). I *did* see the purple head in the water; eerie. I suspect the discoloration was was caused by refraction of light against mineral deposits in the Wabash river.
I took this picture several years ago out the windshield of my truck while crossing from Indiana to Illinois. It just begged a little photo shop work to bring back the days of steam.
Recently had the opportunity to travel to Vincennes, and finding this bridge drove across it. If you haven't yet had a chance to do so, it is the best and intense one dollar you will ever spend. LOL
Back in 1990-91 I was enrolled in Vincennes University and knew about the RR bridge located near the campus crossing the wabash. I had heard of the Purple Head bridge and did find a very old and rusted bridge on an abandoned rail line outside of town. While this bridge looks similar I'm not too sure, as I was there, there was a slightly inebriated Illinois student that tried offering me 40 dollars for God knows what, and I walked slowly back to my truck so I didn't stick around very long. One thing I do remember is that there was a center pillar that I could see, that looked like it could swing, but I wasn't close enough to see if there was a roadway over the bridge like it shows in these pictures. I do strongly remember it was an incredibly wooded area, and the approach to the bridge looked like a rail line.
As the DuPont slogan used to say, "Better living through chemistry."
This bridge in fact is not the Wabash Cannonball Bridge, that span was closer to Vincennes. Besides the St. Francesville Bridge this span is also known as the "Purple Head Bridge". That name comes from a story of a ghost that's head apparently floats around over the water in a purple fog. You gotta wonder where they come up with some of this stuff!
Maybe it's just the local's popular name for the bridge?
The "Wabash Cannoball" is a song, not a train. The song was popular with hoboes in the 19th century and first appeared on sheet music in 1882 as a song about the Rock Island Railroad. In 1904, a newly published version changed the lyrics in the chorus from "Great Rock Island Route" to "The Wabash Cannonball."
The catchy tune helped make the song quite popular during the depression. The Carter Family made the first recording in 1927 but it was Roy Acuff's version in 1936 that really made the song popular. Seeing a great opportunity, the Wabash Railroad named their Detroit to St. Louis train the "Wabash Cannonball."
I suspect the name has more to do with the river than a train.
I am wondering why they call it the Wabash Cannonball Bridge? The rail line that crossed here was an old New York Central branch line. Only the Wabash Railroad had a train called that to my knowledge. It's bridge over the Wabash River is clear up in Attica, Indiana or another at Andrews, Indiana. No hate, I am just curious as to the story behind the name. Maybe something to do with the French, George Rogers Clark, and Vincennes history involving cannons and the river that was interesting to the farmer/owner and locals perhaps?
Interesting development is the State of Illinois is taking over control of the bridge according to a report in the "Daily Record" newspaper of Lawrence County, Illinois. Story can be found at http://www.lawdailyrecord.com/main.asp?Search=1&ArticleID=56...
Some more photos of the bridge during it's Railroad days
can be found at http://indianarailroads.org/board/index.php?topic=2837.0
One pic even shows the swing span open.
There are paranormal legends involving crossing from Indiana to Illinois and seeing a "floating purple head", thus another nickname for the bridge. Info about that can be found by googling it. Take care, James
My Grandmother, Ethel Tussey, is the oldest resident of St. F at the age of 99. The home she lives in belonged to my great granparents, Pearl and James Tussey and the home next door belongs to my uncle, Lewis Tussey's widow. That bridge scares me to death!!! The first time I drove over it I was terrified, then they made me pay fifty cents for my terror!!! I know it saves time coming in from Vincennes and my family members who still live there love it, but it will always envoke fear in me!!
I took these photos on September 24th 2008. View is from downstream in a boat. You can see the gears on the round center pier that were once used for swinging this bridge so steamboats could pass through.
It's strange to hear about the bridge that is so usual to we who live in the area. I've travelled over the St.F bridge so many times. I never had any type of odd or paranormal expieriences while doing so. I wish I would have.The only time I had any thing happen was when a tree had fallen across it and we had to drive off it in reverse from the middle. Not too much fun for someone afraid of water and bridges!!!
I never knew the bridge even had gears and rotated at one time. I am curious and will definately delve into the amazing history of St. F bridge.
My grandfather, Isaac Orlando Caldwell,ran the ferryboat in St Francisville. I have many fond memories playing on the boat as a child.
I grew up in Mt. Carmel and have driven over this bridge many times over the years -- even on bicycle. The last time was in the summer of 2006 -- in the dark. Terrifying! Driving on a bridge with a wooden deck (with nice holes so you can see the swirling waters of the Wabash below) is just not something you expect to do in the 21st century.
As for its history: allegedly it was originally constructed by the King Bridge Company in Wilmington, Delaware in 1897, then bought by the railroad, dismantled, and rebuilt on its current site in 1906.
This is a link to a video posted on Youtube. Crossing the Cannonball bridge, February, 2007.
When the pics were taken there was a large fresh burned area on the upstream Illinois side ... presumably where they had dragged out all the wood and burned it since it is now gone.
It would have been done within a couple of weeks of the time the photos were taken because there was absolutely no new plant growth.
The gears are still there but not viewable from the road deck. You would have to climb over the guardrail and onto the center pier or abuntment to see them.
If I had a lawyer I'm sure I would be advised to also say that this is not advised LOL!!
You would also have to walk as the bridge is now well used during the day and I'm sure well patrolled at night due to it's stint as the sight of paranormal activity during the time it was condemed (somewhere between 5 and 10 years). So there would be no parking in the middle of it and there are few places to park once on the road that leads to it.
One the IN side you would have about a 1/2 mile walk. On the IL side there is one side access road left due to large oil storage tanks very near the portal.
My friends and I embarked on a 185 mile kayak trip down the Wabash River, and as a result, encountered innumerable bridges... This bridge stands out very clearly in my memory though. At the time of our passage, the bridge seemed to be in similar condition as shown in the photographs, however; there was a rather large log jam in evidence, making passage even in kayak, rather difficult. Although we did take time to admire the enormous gear system, that allowed the bridge to swing at one point in time, these gears are still clearly visible from the water, however I don't know how well you will be able to see them from shore.
My husband and I drove across the bridge at St. Francisville about five years. ago. My mother grew up in St. Francisville, and at that time, our family would drive onto Ike Caldwell's ferry boat and ride across the river from Indiana to St. Francisville. This was in the 1950's and 60's. I'm not sure when the old ferry boat was retired, but it was quite a treat to cross the Wabash on a bridge with a "bird's eye" view.