Sunday, August 24, 2003

'Short' story to end Monday

Bridge that spanned three centuries goes out with a bang

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

One of Greater Cincinnati's last relics from the streetcar era will soon exist only in old-timers' memories.

The Shortway Bridge, which has spanned the Licking River in several incarnations for 111 years, will be imploded Monday. . The rusty, blue-gray steel ghost from a time when traffic consisted of trolleys and horses will crash into the Licking River and be shipped to a junkyard.

Covington native Earl W. Clark, who fondly recalls taking the streetcar across the Shortway as a child will be saying farewell. From his vantage point on a Newport hillside, the 80-year-old Western Hills historian plans to capture the forgotten structure's last moments for posterity.

"It's one of those things that tugs at your heart strings," Clark said."People who are interested in the history of the area will certainly miss it. But the average person probably won't."

Built to establish a streetcar system linking Cincinnati, Covington and Newport, the Shortway Bridge served as a vital link for commuters when it was built and helped spur commercial growth in the three river cities, said Clark, who has lectured on Greater Cincinnati's history worldwide.

The co-authorof The Green Line Cincinnati, Newport & Covington Railway spent his formative years along the Madison Avenue and Holman streetcar lines.

"Our family didn't have an automobile until 1935," Clark said. "Like many people, we relied on the streetcar system for transportation. The streetcar was a basic form of transportation for the average Joe who wanted to get to work."

The Shortway opened in 1893 and closed April 2, 2001.

bridge map When the Shortway first opened in 1893, there were few homes on either side of the span, and no businesses, except a for a saloon or two on the Newport side, Clark said. That soon changed.

"The streetcar shops at 11th and Brighton Streets (in Newport) employed a lot of people," Clark said. "All of those brick shotgun homes you see from 11th Street east were built by streetcar employees.''

After the Shortway opened, the Green Line streetcar company's transfer points, including 20th Street and Madison Avenue in Covington and Third and York streets in Newport, became mini commercial districts, Clark said.

"All kinds of businesses sprang up,'' he said. "Every corner had a grocery store or a butcher shop.''

By 1914, the introduction of heavier streetcars prompted the Shortway's owner to close the span, and its concrete and steel replacement opened a year later.

For decades, the prime east-west route through Covington and Newport was a toll bridge. The Shortway's fare was 5 cents for mules and buggies in the early 20th century, 10 cents by the mid-1970s, and 20 cents in 1986 when the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet acquired the 360-foot span and eliminated the toll.

In September 1976, Northern Kentucky University poked fun at the public's growing dissent with the bridge's toll by sponsoring a Miss Shortway contest. Jennifer Scott, a 5-foot-1 music major, took home $25 cash and free passes to the toll bridge, after singing four choruses of "Short'nin' Bread.''

Covington native Karl Lietzenmayer laughingly recalled driving across the bridge with teenage friends nearly 40 years ago and handing a pickle to the man in the toll booth as a joke.

However, the narrow, winding two-lane bridge was no laughing matter to transportation officials.

"The bridge was awfully curvy, and there were a couple of bad accidents on it as time went on,'' said Lietzenmayer, now the 66-year-old editor of Northern Kentucky Heritage Magazine.

By spring 2001, the Shortway was mostly a local route, with a daily traffic count of 14,000 vehicles. But transportation officials decided the antiquated span lacked the capability to handle even that traffic. They closed the Shortway for good on April 2, 2001. Six months later, the four-lane Licking Valley Girl Scout Bridge opened as its replacement.

The Shortway's historic handrails were removed this summer and are expected to be incorporated into a new riverfront park in Newport. But for the most part, the remnant of a bygone era will be little more than a memory.

"It's the last truss bridge of that design in the world," said Covington historian Joseph Gastright, who plans to videotape the Shortway's demise.

"For the last couple of years, the state offered it to anyone who'd cart it off, but it costs too much to take it down and rebuild it. It's just not practical to go around collecting bridges."

Shortway Bridge milestones

June 15, 1892: The original Shortway Bridge is nearing completion when it collapses into the Licking River, sending 31 construction workers to their deaths. By early 1893, workers rebuild the two-lane bridge for horses and Greater Cincinnati's new electric streetcars.

• May 10, 1914: The advent of heavier streetcars prompts the closure of the Shortway. A stronger concrete and steel span operated by the Green Line Co. opens April 7, 1915.

• 1959: The state of Kentucky first looks into acquiring the Shortway.

• July 26, 1976: The bridge is closed for two weeks after an arson on the Newport side damages the bridge's wooden approaches and reduces its weight limits.

• Aug. 27, 1976: Gov. Julian Carroll announces plans for the state to take over the bridge.

• May 1986: The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet renews efforts to buy the bridge and remove its 20-cent toll. Efforts fail when the bridge's owner reportedly sets a price that's four times the bridge's value.

• Sept. 9, 1986: Gov. Martha Layne Collins announces the state has finalized a decade-old effort to buy the bridge.

• April 2, 2001: The bridge closes for good after the morning rush-hour commute.

• October 2001: A $10.2 million four-lane marvel - the Licking Valley Girl Scout Bridge -- replaces the 88-year-old steel structure.

• Aug. 25, 2003: The Shortway Bridge scheduled to be imploded.



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