Covington & Cincinnati Bridge Company
In the foreground is the Roebling Suspension Bridge, also known as the NewportBridge, which connects Covington and Cincinnati. The bridge, which has a 500-foot span between columns, was built in 1867.
The Kentucky General Assembly granted a charter to the founders of the Covington & Cincinnati Bridge Company in 1846. The company hoped to build a bridge across the Ohio River that would connect Covington, Kentucky, with Cincinnati, Ohio. Kentuckians especially wanted the bridge. Cincinnati was a major metropolis by the 1850s, and farmers and businessmen in Kentucky hoped to have an easier time transporting their goods to the city. Many Ohioans were less enthusiastic. Some whites feared that runaway slaves would have an easier time escaping their owners if a bridge was in place. While many white Ohioans opposed slavery, other whites feared competition from African Americans for jobs. Ohio farmers residing near Cincinnati also did not want competition from Kentucky agriculturalists. Other Ohioans feared that a bridge would endanger river traffic. People might find transporting their items by road easier. A bridge could also cause log and ice jams in the Ohio River, resulting in flooding. As a result of this opposition, the Ohio legislature did not grant the Covington & Cincinnati Bridge Company a charter to construct a bridge in 1849. The legislature also stipulated that the bridge could not connect with any street currently in existence in Cincinnati. In essence, the legislature opposed the bridge. To prevent its construction, legislators would force the Covington & Cincinnati Bridge Company to build a bridge that led nowhere.
Despite the hurdle placed before it by the Ohio legislature, the Covington & Cincinnati Bridge Company was determined to build the bridge. In 1856, the company signed John A. Roebling to construct a suspension bridge between Covington and Kentucky. Construction began that year, but it came to a halt the next year due to the Panic of 1857. As Northern armies invaded the South during the American Civil War, construction resumed. Ohio and federal government authorities realized the need for a bridge to supply the soldiers operating in the South. Due to the high inflation during the war, Roebling had to pay his workers in gold. He also had to import some of the construction materials, especially the suspension cables, from England due to shortages. Workers completed a small footbridge across the Ohio River on September 24, 1865, nearly six months after the Civil War ended. The purpose of this initial bridge was to allow the construction workers an easier means of stringing the cables.
The actual Covington & Cincinnati Suspension Bridge was formally completed on December 1, 1866. The bridge was 1,619 feet across and cost the company approximately 1.8 million dollars to construct. To help offset costs, the company established tollbooths on both ends of the bridge and charged three cents per person to walk across it. In the first three days that the bridge was open, approximately 120,000 people walked across the bridge. In 1896 and again in 1955, the bridge underwent renovation, including widening, the replacement of oak planks with metal sheets for a firmer base, and the addition of electric lights. In 1937, the Ohio River flooded. The Covington & Cincinnati Suspension Bridge was the only bridge that remained open between Steubenville, Ohio, and Cairo, Illinois, more than eight hundred miles, along the river.