Saturday, December 31, 2016

Rockport Bridge

Hidden Art Lives Beneath Green River Rockport Bridge

ROCKPORT, Ky. (12/7/16) — Over 2,200 vehicles cross the U.S. 62 Green River "Rockport" Bridge on an average day, but many of the people in those vehicles are completely unaware of what is below them.

The Rockport Bridge was constructed as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project. The bridge appears to be a Warren truss structure, similar to many other bridges constructed in the 1930s, however, the Rockport Bridge has Art Deco style piers.

The art deco style, popular on public structures in the 1930s, is strictly for appearance. It serves no functional purpose. Art deco construction is perhaps best represented in the facade of the Empire State Building.

Over the years, some of the decorative concrete work around the pier caps was removed as part of normal maintenance and some of the approach piers have been encased in newer concrete. However, the overall art deco look of several of the main piers still provides something of a cathedral effect when underneath the bridge.

Helen McKeown, with the Ohio County Historic Society, has a direct connection to the bridge. Her father helped construct it.

According to McKeown, Green River has always been important to Ohio County. Near Rockport were ferries at Ceralvo and Hopewell, as well as Rockport and numerous other locations. When the bridge was built, it brought about the demise of the ferries at Ceralvo and Hopewell.

McKeown’s dad, Ivan Allen, worked on construction of this bridge and was offered a job with the company building the bridge to continue work with them, but chose to remain in Ohio County, marrying her mother on June 28, 1940.

From the History of Rockport and Echols book by Shirley Watson Smith:

The Rivers and Harbors Bill, passed in 1889 in Washington, was perhaps worth more to Western Kentucky than anything since 1865 and the end of the Civil War. The U.S. Army Engineers made a survey before the work of building river improvements began.

The Kentucky Department of Highways in October, 1938, began accepting bids to build the current Rockport Bridge. The ferry was purchased for $27,500 from Mr. Addie Austin. Dedication of the $7,000,000 bridge was held Oct. 21, 1940, on the Muhlenberg County side, with Gov. Keen Johnson as speaker. The bridge then was a toll bridge for some years.

During construction on Nov. 17, 1939, Mr. Basil J. Hobin, 34, was killed while working on the bridge. A foreman was directing workmen hoisting piles, when a cable broke, knocking him over and crushing him between a pile and trip hammer housing. It was to have been his last day of work on this job, as he and his family were returning to their home in Quebec, Canada. The family left by automobile and his body was shipped home by rail.
Also, during construction, Mr. & Mrs. Ray Tilford had a daughter born May 24, 1939, and named her Emily Bridgeyear Tilford.

So the early contributions to the area's economy by the Henry Stom family at Hopewell Ferry, Hugh Carter who established Rockport Ferry circa 1817 and Richard Morton establishing a ferry in 1800 at Ceralvo, continue with transportation link provided by the Rockport Bridge.

The Rockport bridge was a technological marvel at the time of construction. Pictures of the art deco style piers are available at the Ohio County Museum and Ohio County Public Library. The WPA encouraged incorporation of the arts into construction projects during this era.

The U.S. 62 Green River Bridge is at US 62 Muhlenberg County mile point 25.918 and Ohio County mile point 0.0. The 1,839 foot cantilevered 3-span Warren truss structure was constructed by the Public Works Administration in 1938. The bridge is at Green River navigation mile point 94.6.

The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet currently has a work zone lane restriction for painting and maintenance on the U.S. 62 Green River “Rockport” Bridge at the Ohio-Muhlenberg County Line. The work will continue into the new year.

SurfKY News

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