The Bridges of Frankfort, Kentucky

Singing Bridge. Photo taken by David Eads

Our next bridge tour takes us to the city of Frankfort. With a population of 27,600 inhabitants, it’s the capital of the Commonwealth of Kentucky and the county seat of Franklin County. Frankfort is home to Fort Hill, an important post that played a role in the Civil War. It’s now a monument and park complex. The city is situated at the junction oft he Kentucky River and Benson Creek, and contrary to common beliefs, Frankfort was not derived from the name of the German city of Frankfurt but of Frank’s Ford, a crossing and salt mill that were established by settlers out of Bryan Ford (now Lexington) but was abandoned after an attack by the Native Americans in the late 1780s. The plot is across the river from the tract of land purchased by James Wilkinson in 1786 which later became known as Frankfort.

Our focus of the bridge tour is on the remaining truss bridges that span both Benson Creek and Kentucky River. Subtracting our bonus bridge at Devil’s Hollow Road, all but one bridge in Frankfort was built before 1895. The lone bridge built after that period was built in the 1920s and became part of a dual bridge crossing complex. When visiting Frankfort and its bridges, you will be amazed at what you will find there, including these crossings:

Photo by J. Parrish

Benson Creek Bridge at Taylor Avenue:

Built in 1881, the Taylor Avenue Bridge is the last crossing over Benson Creek before it empties into the Kentucky River. The structure is a pin-connected Whipple through truss bridge with Howe lattice portals and angled knee braces. Unusual for the pin-connected truss span is the square-shaped pin nuts used for connecting the truss beams. The bridge is the third crossing at its original site for the first crossing was a covered bridge built in 1871. Nine years later, it was moved to the Red Bridge site at Devil’s Hollow Road and an iron bridge was built in its place, using the abutments from the covered bridge. It collapsed before it was completed and was subsequentially replaced with the current span, even though it is unknown which bridge building company was contracted to build the structure. The Taylor Avenue Bridge served traffic until its replacement on a new alignment at State Highway 1211. The truss span was rehabilitated in 1996 and has since served pedestrians and cyclists. The bridge survived the 2010 floods, as water levels rose halfway up the truss span- miraculously without a scratch!

Photo taken by James MacCray

The Broadway Avenue Duo Bridges:

When traveling along the Kentucky River on Taylor Avenue, one will be greeted by the Whipple Truss structure. Yet he will be awed by this duo crossing complex at Broadway Avenue. It features two through truss crossings over the Kentucky River, but there have been five crossings at this place over the past 170+ years. The first two crossings featured covered bridge spans. The first crossing was destroyed by the Confederates during the Civil War in 1863. At that time, Frankfort was occupied but the Union troops later successfully liberated the city after it was held captive for over a year. The second covered bridge was washed away by flooding in 1867. It was decided that an iron bridge must take its place. The third crossing featured a multiple-span Fink through truss bridge. Built in 1868, it had served traffic for 30 years until a steel through truss bridge, the Pratt span with Town lattice portals, replaced it in 1898. Rail traffic had started using the Fink truss span until its replacement. It was then shifted onto the 1898 span. In 1928, the American Bridge Company built a massive, multiple-span crossing right next to the Pratt through truss span. It features two truss spans- a Pratt and a Pennsylvania, each with riveted connections. Rail traffic was shifted onto that span in 1929. The Pratt span was then converted to vehicular traffic and raised several feet to avoid flooding. The duo spans have a total length of over 600 feet across the river. Currently, the 1929 span is serving rail traffic, while the future of the 1898 span is up in the air. It has been closed to traffic and fenced off completely, yet given its unique history, especially in connection with the railroad, there is hope that the Pratt through truss span is rehabilitated and put to use in another life form- for recreation.

Singing Bridge
Photo by Elaine Deutsch

Singing Bridge:

The tallest and perhaps the longest single span truss bridge in Frankfort is the Singing Bridge. The bridge spans the Kentucky River and carries Us Hwy. 60 into the historic business district of the city. With a span of 405 feet long, it is the longest remaining span of its kind left in the country that was built by the Cleveland-based King Bridge Company. The bridge was built in 1893 and has been rehabilitated twice- the last one was in 2010. It’s a pin-connected Pennsylvania through truss bridge with Town Lattice portals and heel bracings. It’s unknown how tall the bridge is, but estimates point to somewhere between 25 and 40 feet tall. Sans plaque and gothic railings, the bridge still retains its unique feature- a metal grate girder, which makes a humming noise when crossing the structure. Hence the nickname- turned official name, the Singing Bridge. 😉

Photo by Elaine Deutsch

Red Bridge:

The last truss bridge featured here is the Red Bridge. It spans Benson Creek and is located seven miles west of Frankfort along State Highway 1005. The single-span, pin-connected Pratt through truss bridge, with Town Lattice portals and curved heels, was built in 1896 by the King Bridge Company of Cleveland, replacing a covered bridge that had been relocated to this site from the Taylor Avenue Bridge spanning the same creek. Interestingly enough, that covered bridge span replaced the first bridge that was also covered, but christened the name Belleport. That structure collapsed on April 30, 1880 due to flooding and was replaced with the second covered bridge from Frankfort. It remained in service until King built this span. In 1980, the replacement span was built alongside the truss bridge. Since then, it has been left standing and has maintained its structural integrity. It’s eligible for the National Register and there is hope that this bridge will be rehabbed and reused for pedestrian purposes.

To sum up the tour, five well-known truss bridges are worth seeing in and around Frankfort. While three of them are seeing some use, there is hope that the other two will follow suit in the near future. Each structure has a unique history that is important for the city of Frankfort, especially because of King and Fink. Yet even with the historical facts, it is up to the people to decide what to do with them. When looking at them, I really hope that people will see the value in these structures as I do, as well as the rest of the bridge community.

There is a facebook site devoted to these bridges which you can click on, visit and contribute. Check it out:

https://www.facebook.com/HistoricBridgesofFrankfortKY/

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