Rediscovering Covington, Kentucky’s Lost Bridge

The Covington Waterworks Bridge over the Licking River between Covington and Wilder, Kentucky has a peculiar backstory.

The mystery of a camelback Pratt through truss bridge over the Licking River, spanning between Covington and Wilder, Kentucky, has been a topic of interest for some time. Initially believed to be a former railroad span for the Louisville, Cincinnati & Lexington Railroad, which later became part of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, its slim steel structure suggested it might instead have been an old roadway bridge. However, no evidence of a street near the bridge was found in topographic atlases, and a 1909 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of Covington revealed that the bridge was actually used to carry a 24-inch water main. This raised the question of why the water main wasn’t buried under the river instead.

The 1909 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map indicates the bridge was used to carry a 24-inch water main over the Licking River. Source: Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Covington, Kenton County, Kentucky. Sanborn Map Company, 1954.

In 1908, the Covington Water Works planned an additional water line to supplement an existing 30-inch main, which was leaking due to vibrations from heavy trains on the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad Bridge. A new auxiliary water line, to serve as a backup, was proposed to be laid under the Licking River. The Licking River Free Traffic Bridge Association suggested incorporating the water line into a bridge that would also support automobile and pedestrian traffic, which was viewed favorably.

After a $200,000 bond issue passed, the Covington Waterworks Bridge project received the Secretary of War’s approval in April 1916. The construction contracts were awarded to the Argonia Bridge Company for the superstructure and the D. P. Foley Company for the substructure. The Oregonia Bridge Company, a successor to Argonia, was close to completing the bridge in May 1917 when a flood on September 7 washed away the supporting falsework. The Covington Waterworks Bridge was rebuilt by December, and the water line became operational in January 1918.

Although there were discussions about adding a walkway to the bridge a month after its completion, it appears this was never implemented. In 1952, a contract was issued to surface the bridge, which was finished by 1955.

By the 1970s, the Covington Waterworks Bridge was abandoned and its approaches were removed. In a recent development, the city of Covington attempted to secure grant funding to rehabilitate the bridge for pedestrian and cyclist use as part of the Licking River Greenway Trail. Despite not receiving the funding, there’s hope that the bridge may still find a new purpose.

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