In the days of the Auto Trails, a second route adopted the name of “Dixie Highway,” this one being the “Dixie Bee Line.” In Indiana, much of this route followed what became State Road 10, and later US 41. In September 1921, work was started on a bridge over the White River north of the town of Hazelton, where the river forms the boundary between Knox and Gibson Counties. This bridge would replace the last ferry on the “Dixie Bee,” a ferry that had been in place for 40 years at the time of construction.
What makes this bridge special is its shear size. According to the Garret Clipper of 28 February 1924, “the bridge is said to be the largest on a state highway in the middle-west.” The massive size of this bridge is especially shown in its length. Including approaches, the bridge was nearly three miles long. The bridge consisted of a total of 29 spans: eight steel and 21 concrete.
Built by the Stein Construction Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and costing $275,000, the bridge was 20 feet wide for its entire length, including approaches. It was rated to carry up to 20 ton (40,000 pound) vehicles. The bridge itself was 2002.5 feet in length, with approaches of 7448 feet (north) and 3800 feet (south). The bridge was “without draw,” or a non-moving bridge, that was 38.5 feet above the low water mark on the White River.
The steel spans had two different lengths: four were 198 feet; four were 84 feet.
The amount of construction material involved was massive: 1.5 million pounds of steel; 350,000 pounds of reinforcing steel in the concrete; 6,200 yards of concrete; and 13,000 linear feet of timber pilings. In addition, slightly more than 90,000 cubic yards of earth was used in building the northern approach.
The bridge had been longed for by residents of both Knox and Gibson Counties. As mentioned, the Hazleton Bridge replaced a ferry across the White River at this point. The problems with the ferry were typical when it came to Indiana weather. In the spring and fall, the amounts of rain received in the area caused the ferry to be put on hold for weeks at a time, suspending traffic flow at the same times. Again, according to the newspaper mentioned above, “traffic often was held in abeyance for weeks at a time.”
It was reported that this bridge “removes in Indiana the last obstacle on what is said to be the shortest motor route between Chicago, Florida and Gulf points.”
All of the construction did have its problems later. The Indianapolis Star, of 15 January 1930, reports that “turbulent flood waters from White river threatened to destroy the three-mile fill leading to the Hazelton bridge on United States highway No. 41, late yesterday.” It was also stated that “the water was rising an inch an hour and highway officials expected the roadway to be covered before morning.” Members of the Indiana National Guard were sent to protect the Hazleton Bridge during this flooding incident due to reports of people wanting to blow up the bridge to alleviate the flooding problem.
The flooding in question affected not only US 41 at Hazleton, but points all along the White River south of Indianapolis. This especially affected areas around Newberry, Edwardsport, Spencer, Shoals, and Bedford. Highway officials were reporting that most state and county roads in these areas would not escape the flood waters.
The Hazelton bridge was in use from October 1923 until it was closed by officials of Knox and Gibson Counties on 03 April 1989. It had been in the state inventory until a bypass was built in 1961. Knox County officials wanted to close it for structural reasons in 1985, but work was done in 1986 to keep it open a little while longer. The weight limit on the bridge had been lowered in the 1970s to five tons for safety reasons. High water in April 1989, and parts of the bridge sinking six inches or more, helped make the decision to remove the bridge from use. According to the Vincennes Sun-Commercial of 6 April 1989, “the closing means an additional two miles for travelers coming to Vincennes from Hazelton.”
Now, as shown in the above Google Maps images, the bridge stands in a decaying condition, a testament to what had been one of the greatest bridge building projects in Indiana in the early days of the Indiana State Highway Commission.