The first mention of a fixed railroad bridge between Point Pleasant and Kanauga over the Ohio River was on February 28, 1882 when The Journal in Gallipolis received news that the J.S. Caseman and Company would be the primary contractor in the construction of a crossing.1 2 The Point Pleasant and Ohio River Railroad Company, owned by five individuals that also served as its directors, featured capitol of $1 million. Because the state of West Virginia required a railroad charter with a maximum length of 60 years and that Ohio did not require a railroad charter at the time, the Pomeroy and Ohio River Railroad was chartered on August 18, 1881, running from Pomeroy, Ohio south to the center of the bridge at Kanauga, with the track used by the Ohio Central Railroad. The Point Pleasant and Ohio River Railroad was organized on the West Virginia side of the river on January 31, 1883, extending from the midpoint of the crossing to Point Pleasant.
The rail line south of Point Pleasant was under construction, extending to Hawks Nest under the Atlantic and Northwestern Railroad.1 2 When completed, the Ohio Central would control the rail line from Hawks Nest north to Toledo, Ohio – or from a major coal hauling railroad to a major coal port on Lake Erie.
The Ohio River span was proposed with six to seven piers, each extending at least 100 feet above the low water mark and topped with a ten foot square cap.1 2 The width of the bridge would be wide enough to accomodate two tracks with only one being constructed until such time that traffic dictates a second main.
During construction of the Kanawha and Michigan Railroad Bridge, not a life was lost – the only bridge constructed on the Ohio River up to that point that had such an accomplishment.1 2
Upon completion in 1885, the Bridge had a main span of 450 feet, and with its two approach viaducts, the total length of the span was one mile and ranked as one of the longest bridges in the United States.1 2 The bridge was only used by the Central Ohio for one year, as the railroad was foreclosed on October 15, 1885. As a result, three railroads were formed from the remains of the Central Ohio on June 25, 1886: the Ohio and Kanawha Railroad in Ohio, the Kanawha and Ohio in West Virginia, and the Point Pleasant Bridge Company. Although listed as three companies, they functioned as though they were combined. For instance, the Board of Directors that were involved with the Ohio Central also operated the three new companies. Important to the companies was the control of the bridge, as they were able to control freight from West Virginia bound for the Columbus, Hocking Valley and Toledo Railroad (CHV&T) (later the Hocking Valley and Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad (C&O)) in Ohio and freight bound for the Ohio River Railroad (later the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O)) in West Virginia. It was not until 1905 that the New York Central and the C&O controlled the Hocking Valley and the Toledo & Ohio Central Railroad as a joint venture for five years.
In 1889, the three separate railroad companies merged to form the Kanawha and Michigan Railroad (K&M), operating a rail line from Point Pleasant south to Hawks Nest.1 2 One of the first projects that the K&M considered was an upgrade of the Ohio River crossing. The upgraded span, completed in place in the same location without interruption to railroad traffic, was completed in 1919. One of the major modifications was the completion of additional approach viaducts and a relocation of K&M trackage that extended the bridge length to 2.2 miles, and the raising of the span.
The bridge is comprised of:
1 38′, 9 30′, 9 61′ and 152′ deck plate girders, 1 200′ through truss, 9 metal towers, 1 metal bent, 1 stone pier and 1 concrete pier for a total length of 1,109 feet on the Ohio side of the bridge, and 1 420′ through truss , 3 250′ through truss, 18 30′, 11 60′, 5 45′ and 3 50′ deck plate girder and 1 71′ through place girder spans, with 5 stone and concrete piers and 19 metal towers for a length of 2,816 feet.
The K&M owned the span until December 31, 1921.1 On January 1 of the next year, the bridge and the rail lines from Hawks Nest to Point Pleasant was leased to the New York Central System (NYC), eventually becoming wholly owned by the NYC.
On December 15, 1967, the Silver Bridge connecting Point Pleasant and Kanauga that carried US 35 collapsed into the Ohio River, killing 46. As there was no other fixed crossing across the river at that location, the K&M hosted commuter passenger service. Fares were 50 cents one way to Gallipolis and 35 cents to Kanauga, with 5 scheduled departure times. The service continued until the Silver Memorial Bridge opened in December 1969.
On February 1, 1968, the NYC merged into the Pennsylvania Railroad, forming Penn Central (PC), which lasted until April 1, 1976 when the bankrupt PC was rolled into Conrail. The CHV&T had become part of the C&O in 1910, which at that point had control over the K&M.3 4 The Hocking Valley became known as the Hocking Division, and the line from Logan to Pomeroy, which intersected the K&M at Kanauga, became known as the Pomeroy Subdivision. In 1973, the B&O, C&O and the Western Maryland merged to form the Chessie System until its successor, CSX, became reality in 1987.
This posed an interesting dilemma for the Ohio River crossing. The Ohio River Railroad, constructed from Wheeling south to Huntington, West Virginia became part of the B&O in 1912 and taken over by the C&O in 1973, and then CSX. In the early days, the Ohio River Railroad had to pay to interchange traffic with the CHV&T in Ohio, in addition with interchange costs with the Kanawha and Ohio. In Ohio, the CHV&T could interchange with the Ohio River Railroad for free as they had control over their span due to their earlier purchase of the Pomeroy and Ohio River Railroad.2 In later years, the C&O had to request permission from Conrail to cross the span, and the C&O obtianed trackage rights through Conrail to handle the interchange of freight.
The last train on the C&O Pomeroy Subdivision from Hobson east to Pomeroy ran in 1979 due to a flood along the Ohio River that damaged the tracks. Traffic on the remainder of the Pomeroy Subdivision was minimal and was “as needed” from Cheshire west and north to Logan until 1982, when Chessie came to an agreement with Conrail to serve the power plant via the K&M Bridge from the ex-Ohio River Railroad/B&O (then Chessie). The line from Kanauga through Gallipolis and Logan had been abandoned in phases, from 1982 until 1992 when the line was dismantled. This left Chessie’s successor, CSX, with 8.9 miles of track in Ohio that it operated from Kanauga to Hobson.
In 1999, Conrail was split between Norfolk Southern (NS) and CSX, which made the K&M bridge ownership more interesting. The Toledo and Ohio Central Railroad (T&OC) connected Toledo to the Ohio River at Pomeroy, which merged into the NYC in 1952, Penn Central in 1968 and Conrail in 1976, who operated it as the West Virginia Secondary from the Buckeye Yard in Columbus, Ohio to Charleston, West Virginia. After NS acquired the track, it became part of the NS Pocohontas Division.5 CSX did not want to part with its remaining segment of the C&O Pomeroy Subdivision, which was profitable, to NS and so an agreement was reached that NS could operate on the line with NS completing maintenance as needed.