Bridge at Mauckport

At the south end of what is now SR 135 is the town of Mauckport. This town was the terminus of one of the early (as in 1820’s-1830’s) state roads in Indiana, the Mauck’s Ferry (now Mauxferry) Road, connecting Indianapolis to the Ohio River west of Louisville. When the Indiana Toll Bridge Commission (ITBC) was created in 1940, as mentioned in the “Bridge at New Harmony” post of 10 January 2020, it was planned to build a bridge crossing the Ohio River at Mauckport.

The building of the Mauckport bridge was debated across the state. It was also caught in a Catch 22 situation from the very beginning. The ITBC would build the bridge, as long as the Indiana State Highway Commission (ISHC) improve SR 135 to Corydon. The ISHC didn’t see the need to improve the road there until the bridge was built.

The pending construction was already approved by government entities involved. Not only did this include the State of Indiana and Commonwealth of Kentucky, but also the United States Federal government in the form of the US Army Corps of Engineers, a requirement for all bridges across the Ohio. Construction was also encouraged by the United States Army.

Then, the pending location of the bridge was debated, as well. There was some question whether the structure should be built at Mauckport or at Evans Landing, just west of West Point, Kentucky. This question came up surrounding the US Army and its desire for a bridge over the Ohio River. The Army saw a bridge somewhere around here as a necessity for transportation between Fort Knox, Kentucky, and Fort Benjamin Harrison. The Evans Landing location was researched as it was closer to Fort Knox than Mauckport is. The difference, in the eyes of locals, is the fact that Evans Landing was connected by county roads, while Mauckport already had SR 135.

Editors of newspapers got into the fray when it came to building a bridge on the Ohio River. One local paper even started their editorial as follows: “Metropolitan daily newspapers too often make use of their editorial columns to comment on matters about which they are either wholly uninformed or in which they are careless with the truth.” (Source: Jackson County Banner, 14 January 1942) The Banner editorial staff takes to task the their counterparts at the Indianapolis Star. The Star took the stance that “a bridge at this point has not been contemplated by any authorities, hence, the defense angle to the current agitation seems far-fetched.” Unfortunately for the Star editors, such a claim was not quite true.

As far as connecting the two forts, “It has long been recognized that the ‘bottleneck’ between Ft. Knox and Ft. Benjamin Harrison is a tortuous and narrow entrance to Louisville, through either bridge, and the vast difficulty of traversing her crowded streets and finally the exit through 18th street, the narrow, crooked and cobblestone paved ‘Dixie’ highway that leads to Ft. Knox.” An addition point made by the newspaper was that “the growing conviction that a new Army camp will be built in Bartholomew county, add to the importance of this bridge and Highway 135, which would serve this new camp, without further damming up traffic on the already congested Highway 31.” This made the bridge very important in the defense of the United States, or so it was argued.

Ironically, that Army post in Bartholomew County would cut a big section out of the original state road connecting Indianapolis and Mauckport.

And yet, the bridge wouldn’t be built at that time. In October 1948, the bridge, as well as bridges at Lawrenceburg, Cannellton, and Mount Vernon, were still being planned by the ITBC. But the Mauckport span was being mentioned in an article concerning the moving of the Lawrenceburg bridge from a paper project to surveyors being sent to look into the route for that bridge. (Source: Jasper Herald, 23 October 1948) It seems that such a view might have been a bit premature. The bridges over the Ohio River at Mauckport, Cannellton and Lawrenceburg were still being studied in 1959. The difference with the Lawrenceburg bridge would be that, according to the Columbia City Commercial-Mail of 23 July 1959, was to “be studied as to feasibility and benefits as a possible part of the interstate highway system by-passing Cincinnati.”

The Mauckport project came up again in 1960 when it was announced that the bridge would be financed through the use of tolls. This seems strange in the grand scheme of things, given that the bridge had been in planning stages since 1939 by the Indiana Toll Bridge Commission.

Groundbreaking for the new Mauckport span was set for 8 August 1964, 25 years after first mention of building the bridge. The contract for the construction had been let a week earlier, when R. E. Daily and Long Land and Equipment Company of Detroit was the low bidder. The ceremony was held at 10:30 that morning, with the governors of Indiana and Kentucky in attendance. 300 other distinguished guests were also invited. It should also be noted that the groundbreaking for the Cannellton bridge had already happened on 13 July 1964.

Dedication ceremonies for the “Matthew E. Welsh Memorial Bridge,” the official name of the Mauckport span, was held on 29 October 1966. The problem was that weather conditions, and shortage of supplies, had caused the delay of opening of the bridge to traffic. This would change on 19 November 1966. The bridges at Cannellton and Mauckport cost around $11.6 million, with $5.4 million coming from a bond issue, the rest being paid for by Indiana cigarette taxes.

By 1987, the bridge toll was 60 cents. This was expected to last another two to four years until the construction debt was paid off. 1989 saw the governors of Indiana and Kentucky meeting about assorted bridge projects over the Ohio, with the possibility of a maintenance agreement being made to remove the tolls from the Cannellton and Mauckport spans. The tolls on the Mauckport span would be removed on 24 August 1992.

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