The Bridges of Marion County


I spent some time trying to figure out a good title for this blog posting, with most options for some reason being inspired by film titles. Unfortunately, trying to modify the film titles “A Bridge Too Far” (1977) and “The Bridge on the River Kwai” (1957) just weren’t working. But Bridges of Marion County accurately describes this post, which stems from a recent eBay purchase.


This purchase was a lot of 2.5 in by 4-inch photos which were identified as bridges in Indianapolis. A quick review of the bridges on the eBay posting confirmed several of the images were from Indianapolis. A few I did not recognize, but I figured I could research these. The full group of the images is pictured below.


So, let’s take a closer look at these photos. The images all depict bridge scenes along the White River. No information is provided about their origin, except each has the date March 30, 1939, as well as an alphanumeric identifier, some of which match others. The reason for the photos is unclear, although it could have been some type of survey or inspection work.


The first image is perhaps the easiest to identify and shows the now demolished Emrichsville Bridge on the south end of Riverside Park. The bridge carried what we know today as 16th Street across the White River. The bridge was one of the more recognizable in the city due to the pair of towers on the east bank, acting as a gateway into the city after crossing the bridge.


The bridge, and the dam which used to be located just downstream, were located in an area of the city called “Emrichsville,” after a family who owned land in the area. Constructed around 1906, the bridge was a popular subject of photos, and postcards during its lifetime. Check out several such images at this link from The Indiana Album.

Emrichsville Bridge Indianapolis bridge history WHite River
Credit: Indiana Historical Society

Age and the cost of repairs eventually claimed the Emrichsville Bridge, which was demolished in the late 1940's, and replaced with the structure which stands today. However, there are still some remnants of the bridge. With the destruction of the Emrichsville Dam, the lower water levels on the White River have revealed that the foundations for at least three of the piers for the old bridge are still in place. Those can be seen in the Google Maps image below and show the different orientation of the old bridge across the river.


Continuing south, the next photo shows an iron two span arched bridge, with a grain elevator in the background. This is the 10th Street bridge over the White River. The east bank of the river is on the left, along with the confluence with Fall Creek.


The bridge was built in 1894, and only included two spans, as shown in the photo above, and in the aerial image from 1941, below. Note that the red circle marks the location of the small structure visible on the right side of the 1939 image. This structure contained gauges to measure the water levels on the river.

Indianapolis history aerial image 1941
Credit: 1941 Aerial, MapIndy

The grain elevator in the background was owned by the Evans Milling Co and included the five sets of silos depicted in the photo. In 1951, the William P, Jungclaus Company was hired to construct an additional five pairs of silos. This structure still stands today.


In 1949-1950, an additional two spans were added to the east side of the two spans in the 1939 photo. This was the result of channel work done in the river, which widened it at this point, necessitating the expansion (note how narrow the river is in the 1941 aerial). The expanded bridge, and the original two spans, were demolished in 1978, and was replaced by the structure which currently carries 10th street over the river.

Indianapolis bridge history 10th street VA Hospital
Indianapolis News, May 19, 1950

The lot of eBay photos contain no photos of the next few bridges south of 10th Street, including Michigan, New York, and Washington Street. But continuing south, the next image shows one of several railroad bridges which crossed the White River south of Washington Street. In the background of this image is the Kingen Meat Packing facility. This bridge is actually still standing, although the Kingen structures in the background are long since gone and replaced with part of White River State Park and Victory Field.


The view in this image can be somewhat replicated from the White River Trail, which runs along the western side of the river, and loosely follows the dirt roadway in the foreground. The image below roughly shows the area photographed above, although the underbrush makes it difficult to see. The inclined hump seen in the image above is just visible below, connecting the two sections of the bridge.

I was curious whether the bridge featured in this photo was still being used. During an afterwork run along the river, I took a path on the northside of the hump, to the top. The image below on the left is looking east across the river from the top of the hump, while the second image is looking east. The vantage point of the eBay photo above is in the background of the second photo to the left of the group of three power poles. Clearly, these tracks are no longer in service.


The next three photos are closely related and cover the trio of city street bridges which still stand south of Washington Street and carry Oliver Avenue, Kentuckey Avenue, and Morris Street over the river. The image below shows Oliver Avenue, as seen from the western bank of the White River, near the former GM stamping plant location.

Indianapolis history bridges White River
Oliver Avenue Bridge

In the background is the Kentuckey Avenue bridge. Within the past few years, the Oliver Avenue bridge underwent a period of rehabilitation and repair. The next image shows the Morris Street bridge, as seen from slightly downstream, on the eastern side of the river north. Note the wide, and empty, flood plain from, which the photo is taken.

Indianapolis history bridges White River
Morris Street Bridge

The image below is a closer view of Morris Street bridge, still viewed from the eastern bank of the river as noted above. In the background is the Kentucky Avenue bridge, with the Oliver Avenue bridge in the far background, just visible between the piers for the Kentucky bridge.

Indianapolis history bridges White River
Morris Street bridge, with Kentucky Avenue in the background

The Oliver, Kentuckey, and Morris bridges pictured above were all constructed around the same time, 1925, 1925, and 1928, respectively. The point of view of these photos have changed significantly, since the points where the photos were taken are now forested. However, on the western bank, the White River Trail runs under each bridge, allowing easy viewing of the bridges' construction. The sliding gallery below shows Oliver, Kentucky and Morris bridges, in that order,

South of the Oliver/Kentucky/Morris trio there were two additional bridges, one railroad bridge for the Belt Railway, and one for Raymond Street. However, neither of these bridges were included in the lot from eBay. The final two images in the lot are something of a mystery. I could not immediately identify them, although they appear similar. The bridges in both images both have two truss style spans, with a plate girder section on the far end, on the opposite side of the river (you have to look very closely to see these).


After additional research, I think these both show the old Harding Street bridge over the White River southwest of downtown. The images are different. The large sandbar in the first image (left) is missing in the second image, and the abutment in the foreground is different in both images However, the design of the bridge is the same, as are the towers (powerlines?) on each bank. Below is an image of the bridge from 1928, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society. The image is taken from the opposite bank, and side of the eBay images above. Note the tower on the far shore.

Harding Street bridge Indianapolis History white river
Credit: Bass Photo Co Collection, Indiana Historical Society

The Harding Street bridge was built in 1897, and there are several references to it being repaired over the years. In 1936, the Indianapolis Star reported that the bridge was being repaired as part of a project for the WPA. An image accompanying this article show the bridge, which the caption indicated was looking north, confirming that the eBay images above are looking south from the west bank of the river (the river takes a westward bend at this point). The abutment on the far side appears to match the leftmost eBay photo above. Note the tower on the left, which matches the tower in the eBay photo.

Indianapolis Star, November 29, 1936

As noted at the beginning, all these images are dated 1939. I suspect that the date is not when the photos were taken, making the dates of the two Harding Street images unclear. Perhaps these were taken as a before and after for reapirs done to the bridge. Several newspaper reports were located noting that its load limit was constantly being violated, necessitating the already mentioned repairs. In the late 1960's the structure was replaced by the modern bridge which stands today. The aerial image below shows the full 1897 bridge, as the new one was being built next to it.

Indianapolis bridge history Harding Street
Indianapolis Star, July 17, 1969



Sources


Indianapolis Star: May 21, 1935, November 29, 1936, March 1, 1948, March 23, 1952, December 4, 1964, December 30, 1967, July 17, 1969


Indianapolis News: January 22, 1931, September 13, 1957, July 3, 1969, March 8, 1950, May 19, 1950


Emerichsville Bridge, 16th and White River, Feb. 23, 1935, https://images.indianahistory.org/digital/collection/p16797coll53/id/3812/rec/10


Harding Street Bridge, 1928 (Bass #205524F), https://images.indianahistory.org/digital/collection/dc012/id/643/rec/25


HistoricBridges.org, Bridges of Marion County, Indiana: https://historicbridges.org/b_a_list.php?ct=&c=&ptype=county&pname=Marion+County,+Indiana





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