The following article by David Strange was originally published on 13 Nov 2016.
Thousands of people drive right by it every day but never notice.
Few folks see it as they race along Highway 61, just north of Shepherdsville. Fewer still know what it is. But for those who do, it's something to look for, if only to see if it is still there; and to remember, or perhaps imagine, what times were like back then.
It's hard to picture it now, with all the hustle and bustle going on today, but in the 1940's, northern Bullitt County was deeply rural; all farmland and narrow country roads. We complain today about the two-lane Highway 61 (also known as Preston Highway) that wanders through that area, and watch anxiously as the fantastic new four-lane parkway construction slices through the hills to replace the existing road. But look to the east of 61, as you cross over Blue Lick Creek just north of Shepherdsville and Gap-in-Knob, and you will see the remains of a small old iron bridge close by the current road, covered with brush and trees.
That little one-lane bridge, my friends, is some of the last remains of the old, OLD Highway 61. Already fading from memory, that little bridge WAS highway 61 until the current bridge replaced it in 1951. So you see, within easy sight of each other there now stands three bridges side by side, each one showing a record of different times.
Really, you are seeing four crossings. Before any of the bridges were built, there was a fording place at that spot; it was part of an ages-old trail along which bison and other migrating animals traveled on their way from the salt licks and fording place at Salt River on their way to cross the Ohio River at the falls of the Ohio where Louisville now stands.
The old iron bridge at Blue Lick Creek was probably built around 1910 or so. By the late 1940's, the narrow one-lane bridge had outlived its ability to handle the growing needs of the area. The bridge was bent and battered. Even small trucks, by today's standards, could barely fit through.
In those post WWII days, like in all days, money for new construction was hard to come by. However, as former county judge-executive Cliff Haley taught me long ago, it is not so much that there is no money for a project, it is convincing the powers that be that the money should go to YOUR project rather than somewhere else.
Bullitt County was fortunate in those late 1940's days to have J. D. "Jiggs" Buckman and T.C. "Tot" Carroll as its advocates. From what I can learn, longtime active local attorney Tot Carroll started pushing for an improved road in the area and especially for wider bridges. Jiggs Buckman had been active in state politics, becoming Bullitt County's State Representative in 1949 (he later rose to Senator and state Attorney General). Though Kentucky had a governor at the time who was big on road improvements, Buckman was having difficulty getting the legislature interested in improving the Bullitt County road.
So, according to an interview recorded in his later years by Burlyn Pike, Buckman devised a plan. The Kentucky Derby was coming, so Mr. Buckman hosted a large party, inviting many members of state government. Of course, to get to his house, the guests had to travel Highway 61 from Louisville, crossing the little worn-out bridge. In the interview, Buckman chuckled at the memory, having tricked the decision makers into experiencing first-hand the need for a new road. The state replaced the old iron bridge across Blue Lick Creek soon after (in 1951) with the current two-lane bridge, which has served the county admirably for sixty-five years.
Now comes its massive replacement, part of a multi-million-dollar project creating an entirely new Highway 61 parkway and revitalizing large swaths of Bullitt County. The new bridge complex alone dwarfs the current and old bridges that stand nearby. Compared to the new, the old looks like little more than a driveway.
Times have certainly changed, as the three bridges can attest. It is a constant struggle to keep up with infrastructure in a county exploding with growth and vitality.
Jiggs Buckman and Tot Carroll might never have imagined what modern roads of today would look like or how immense travel needs would someday be in a once-rural county. Looking across the three bridges, I like to think they would be proud.
Below is a video of a drone's eye view of three bridges in Bullitt County, Kentucky, on Highway 61 just north of Shepherdsville, November 2016. This shows the original iron bridge at bottom, the Highway 61 bridge currently used, and the large new bridges that are about to replace it. Video courtesy of Don E. Yeoman Jr. licensed drone operator and photographer and owner of MagicDonnie Media.
Please note that the video is linked from YouTube, and that at its end other videos may be suggested. However, the History Museum has no control over these suggestions, and does not necessarily approve any of them.
Copyright 2016 by David Strange, Shepherdsville KY. All rights are reserved. No part of the content of this page may be included in any format in any place without the written permission of the copyright holder.