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  • Writer's pictureLawrence Lore

First Bridge over the Wabash

Prior to 1863 there was no bridge over the Wabash into Vincennes from Illinois. The Editor of the Weekly Vincennes Gazette encouraged the citizens of Vincennes to assist the Lawrence County Supervisors in their endeavor to build one.

Publication: VINCENNES GAZETTE Date: March 21, 1863

"The movement on the part of the people of Allison prairie for the erection of a Bridge across the Wabash River at this point, is one which should be encouraged by our citizens, and for every dollar subscribed for the accomplishment of the object, by citizens of Illinois, three should be contributed by those of Vincennes. The bridge would be a matter of convenience to our Illinois neighbors, but it is one of prime interest to those of this city.

The trade of Lawrence, Jasper, Crawford, Wabash and other counties in Illinois, has for some years, sought a market at Vincennes, because it was nearest and best, but that trade would be largely increased, yes, quadrupled if there were the facilities of a bridge for crossing the river. The inconveniences, as well as the cost of crossing by means of the old ferryboats, deter many from bringing the surplus products of their farms to our city for a market, and only those who are forced to do so think of seeking a market here.

Our citizens have not hitherto pursued a policy to invite trade, but with the experience of the past season before them— the long trains of wagons, loaded with wheat and other surplus products, from the rich prairies of Illinois, which crowded our streets, and gave life and activity to the business of our town, they must be convinced of the importance of providing such conveniences as will of themselves be an inducement to farmers to bring their surplus produce to our city for a market.

No single thing that can be done, will so effectually accomplish it as the creation of a bridge, over which a safe and cheap crossing can be had— one over which the farmer can pass at any hour of the day or night and not be compelled to remain all night, as is frequently the case now, after the transaction of his business, because the ferry boats won’t cross after night. As a paying investment for money, none better can be had, for even with the receipt would pay 30 per cent on cost. A mistaken notion exists as to the cost of building such a bridge as would accommodate the wants of all. $30,000 is the utmost extent of the amount necessary to build one with first class stone masonry and double track super-structure— one, the masonry of which would last forever, and the wood work, with but trifling repairs, for a quarter of a century.. . .”

The editor’s plea did not fall on deaf ears. Condemnation proceedings to acquire the right of way needed were started in 1867 and land owners were allowed $800 for their land, a very high price in those days. In 1868, the Vincennes newspapers noted that the toll bridge across the Wabash at the foot of Main Street was slowly progressing toward completion. The first two spans on the Indiana side of the river were nearly finished. The combination bridge was partly a wooden covered -bridge design and partly iron with a combination drawbridge in the middle to allow boats to pass.

Almost immediately a tornado in 1869 damaged two spans adjacent to the city, leading in 1875 to a replacement of the wrought and cast- iron spans. The bridge continued as a toll bridge until 1889 when by a vote of the legislatures of both states, it became a free bridge.

Tomorrow: The Need for a Replacement Bridge

Photo from Mike Deloriea Collection

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