Great King Bridges

To Our Visitors:

This article is designed to fill a gap in our web site, which to date focuses mostly on descriptions of existing King built bridges and various types of company memorabilia. Along with a second to be posted later covering the history of the company’s moveable bridges, this article provides a brief description of the six great bridges built by the company in its heyday, only one of which, the Detroit-Superior (Veteran’s Memorial) Bridge in Cleveland, is still standing and pictured at various places on our web site. Four of these are pictured in the King Bridge Company catalogue (Boston catalogue) on the site and we plan to add more pictures to this article at a later date. For immediate viewing, however, we have noted some links to other web sites with pictures.


By Allan King Sloan

May 2004

After close to thirty years of bridge building, Zenas King wanted to demonstrate that the

company he founded was indeed a leader and innovator in this highly competitive business. While he was undoubtedly content with the ability of the company to produce in high volume the bowstrings and standard trusses to serve the needs of a rapidly expanding nation, he was apparently not satisfied to remain as just a producer of this distinctive fare. Thus when the King Bridge Company secured contracts to design and build some very large and important bridges, he and his staff of talented engineers must have been very pleased.

As David Simmons describes in his definitive article on the King Bridge Company:[1]

“Four King Bridge contracts in the late 1880s exemplify both the firm’s diversity and the magnitude of its operations. All four were major projects, and the work was carried out simultaneously at widely scattered sites. Each represented the apex of bridge technology at the time. These were the Cedar Avenue Bridge over Jones Falls in Baltimore, the Williamette River Bridge in Albany, Oregon, the Grand Avenue Viaduct in St. Louis, and the Central bridge in Cincinnati.”

To this we would add two other bridges built in Cleveland, the Central Viaduct and the Detroit-Superior (Veteran’s Memorial) Bridge. Zenas, who died in 1892, was able to take pleasure in the completion of five of these structures, including the Central Viaduct, the dedication of which was one of his proudest public appearances. The Detroit-Superior Bridge was built when Zenas’ youngest son, Harry, presided over the company after the retirement of his older brother, James.

All but the Detroit-Superior Bridge have been demolished to accommodate the needs of modern traffic, urban renewal projects, and the interstate highway system. What remains are some pictures and documents describing the role these bridges played in the evolution of bridge engineering and the development of the communities they served.


Zenas King and his engineers must have been fascinated by the challenge and opportunity to participate in the building of cantilever bridges, for this type of structure became one of the chief products of the King Bridge Company during the late 1880s and early 1890s. A cantilever bridge requires the simultaneous construction of two arms of the structure in opposite directions from a single point so that the weight of each counterbalances the other. Where two piers are used, the mid-span of the bridge results in a central “suspended” truss. The design and construction of these large bridges usually required a team of consulting engineers, designers, and construction specialists to deal with the overall design of the superstructure, substructure, piers, and approaches, developing the detailed specifications for each component, contract management, construction supervision, and inspection. While the company had its own engineers, it was usually required to work with other consultants and companies in order to win construction bids and carry out the work, a situation much different from the fabrication and erection of simple bowstrings and standard trusses.

The company was to play a major role in building at least three long-span cantilevers: first, the 2,961-foot Central Bridge with a 520-foot central span across the Ohio River between Cincinnati and Newport, Kentucky that was featured in the company’s catalogues with a four page spread; second, the steel bridge across the Williamette River at Albany, Oregon with a 400-foot center span; and third, the bridge over the Youghiohenny River at Boston, Pennsylvania with a 350-foot center span, a picture of which was shown in the company catalogues with its center truss section being raised into place from a barge in the river. Albert Porter and Frank Osborn, the star engineers of the company staff, were involved in the detailed design of these bridges. Each went on to have outstanding engineering careers after leaving the company.


The highway and railroad crossings of the Ohio River at Cincinnati were a key element in making the city and its surroundings among the most important centers of economic activity in mid-America and a critical focus for north and south transportation links. Following the building of the famous suspension bridge designed by John Roebling in 1867, three railroad bridges were built between 1872 and 1889. The King Bridge Company received the contract to build the second highway bridge across the river just p-stream of the Roebling Bridge. It had a total length of over a half a mile and featured a center cantilever span of 520 feet, which was the second longest cantilever span in North America at the time of its completion. Albert Porter was a major participant in the design of the approaches and Frank Osborn, the company’s chief Engineer, designed the cantilever section. This project was so important to the company that a sketch of it was incorporated into the King Bridge Company’s masthead. It was featured in engineering journals of the day, including a lengthy article in the “Transactions of the American Society of Civil Engineers” in 1892.[2]

This much-photographed bridge was able to function as a key transportation artery for close to a century, despite the fact that it was only able to carry two lanes of traffic. Despite the fact that the bridge had an important role in civil engineering history second only to the neighboring Roebling bridge, it was blown up in three stages in 1992 and replaced by a four-lane bridge in the same location. Parts of its approaches had already been removed to make way for the Riverfront Coliseum. Perhaps the fact that there were other bridges of a similar design across the River made it easier for bridge historians and preservationists to note the destruction of the Central Bridge with a minimum of lament. The neighboring L&N Railroad Bridge apparently won out in the battle for the hearts of the preservationists, for now it has been preserved and converted to a pedestrian crossing. Today this important King bridge of the 19th century is preserved only in photographs and postcards, along with one piece of a stone retaining wall in Newport used to support the new bridge.

For pictures of this bridge, go to (


The King Bridge Company built this 400-foot single span cantilever bridge in 1892. It was held to be one of the longest cantilever spans in the United States at the turn of the century and probably one of the early steel bridges of its kind in the northwest. By crossing the Williamette River at Albany, the bridge played a major role in completing a vital road connection between Eugene in the south and Salem and Portland in the north as well as establishing Albany as an important center of interchange between river and road traffic. Its completion was the cause of much celebration by the local populace, for “it was wide enough for two horse and buggies to pass.”[3]

However, the bridge was not really wide enough for two automobiles to pass, let alone large trucks loaded with lumber, so it was replaced in 1924 by the Ellsworth Bridge. All that remains today are the remnants of one pier, now supporting the nest of an osprey (a local attraction of sorts), and a number of scenic photographs and postcards.


Some old photographs of the bridge were supplied by glenn at ( and will be posted later.

An old postcard view can be found at:



This handsome structure, designed by C.H. Latrobe, was built by the King Bridge Company in 1890 over Jones Falls in Baltimore to connect Wyman’s Park and Druid Hill Park, the city’s recreational centerpiece at the time. It was a spandrel-braced, three-hinged arch. The “latest” metal arch bridge technology of the era made it possible to minimize the size and number of structural components resulting in a bridge less intrusive in the natural park setting.[4] It consisted of an arch span of 150 feet with approaches on each side for a total length of 348 feet. It had a 21-foot wide roadway with eight-foot sidewalks. Its construction required the building of an extensive system of falsework. It was prominently featured in the company’s catalogues of the 1890s.

One of its primary functions must have been to serve the carriage trade making Sunday drives between the parks. However, one could only appreciate the esthetics of the structure if positioned in the valley below the bridge while visiting the old Timanus dam and grist mill, a sight to which many photographers of the era were drawn.

In 1928, after 40 years of service, the bridge was extensively repaired to overcome the damage caused by the sulphur fumes emanating from the steam trains passing underneath. In keeping with its technological heritage, the bridge repairs were made by a then new system of arc welding to reinforce the damaged elements, a method that saved costs and allowed the bridge to remain in service during repairs.[5]

Apparently the bridge succumbed to the needs of the Interstate Highway system, for it disappeared when the Jones Falls Freeway, I-83 was built in the 1970s. The ramps of an elaborate multi-level interchange connecting the attractions of the two parks and neighboring Johns Hopkins University now occupy the space where the bridge once stood. While it is mentioned as a historical site, there is little more than a few old photographs as evidence that the bridge existed.

For a photograph of the bridge, go to the following address:



In 1886, the city fathers of St. Louis, responding to popular demand, decided to build “ a magnificent bridge across the railroad tracks via Grand Avenue, one of the most fashionable boulevards of St. Louis” to connect the north and south sides of the city. The Board of Public Works adopted the plans prepared by Carl Gaylor, the city’s bridge engineer, and bids were let for the construction. The King Iron Bridge & Manufacturing Company won the contract for the superstructure for $160,000. The company’s old rival and co-member of the “bridge trust”, the Wrought Iron Bridge Company of Canton, Ohio was the contractor for construction of the viaducts leading to the central span. The bridge would be the centerpiece of a “splendid boulevard extending from the Fair Grounds in the north to Tower Grove Park in the south”. According to The Republic, one of the leading newspapers of St. Louis, the bridge would be “the finest structure of its kind in the world – a splendid combination of beauty and strength.”[6]

The roadway of the bridge was suspended from a massive eye-bar chain supported by two handsomely decorated 55-foot steel towers. The Engineering News and American Railway Journal of July 18, 1891 ran a supplement showing the plans for the bridge prepared by Gaylor and the company, which as a tribute to the interest of the civil engineering fraternity in the structure. The bridge was featured in the catalogues of the King Bridge Company in the 1890s and was one of their proudest achievements.

The Grand Avenue Bridge served both as a landmark and an important traffic artery from the horse and buggy well into the age of the automobile, as can be seen in the following photographs. However, it was evidently not able to survive the pressure for “modernization” brought about by the post World War II “urban renewal” efforts. The 36-foot roadway with 12-foot sidewalks on each side was considered to be too narrow for modern traffic. The city fathers of the of the 1950s decided to include the demolition of the bridge and its replacement by a 66 foot wide, six lane viaduct to cost $1,368,000 as part of a massive Federally funded $63 million urban renewal program for the area. Apparently little thought was given at the time to saving the old bridge and incorporating it into the new plans. Thus the demolition of the Grand Avenue Bridge was begun in 1959 and was completed in 1962. If the historians and preservationists had any clout and power in the urban renewal era, perhaps the bridge might still be in place. The effort to take down the bridge looked to be as extensive and challenging as erecting the bridge in the first place, as the photos of the process will attest. The obituary for the bridge was written in the St. Louis Construction Record of July 12, 1960 that included a careful record of the birth taken from Gayler’s notes. Norman King, the last of Zenas Kings progeny to be involved in the bridge company, died in the same year.

Postcard views of this bridge may be found at:



It is fitting that the only one of the great bridges built by the King Bridge Company still standing is in Cleveland, the home of the company, its founder and his offspring. From just after the Civil War to the end of World War I, a period of six decades, the company played an important role in building the infrastructure of the metropolitan region, particularly the links to carry surface traffic across the sinewy Cuyahoga River, the city’s most important commercial and industrial water way. Moveable bridges crossing the river on the valley floor were the earliest solutions for making the east to west connections. One of Zenas King’s earliest important bridges was the city’s first iron swing bridge built on Columbus Avenue in 1864. The next year he built a similar patented swing bridge at Seneca Street and yet another at Jefferson Street in 1871.[7] However, to prevent the clash between shipping and surface traffic, high level crossings to allow boats to pass underneath without interrupting the traffic flow were the ideal solution. Following on their earlier projects, the King Bridge Company was able to obtain the contracts, first to build the high level Central Viaduct in 1888, then later, the Detroit-Superior Bridge in 1914 to close out the company’s final chapter of Cleveland bridge-building. The Detroit-Superior Bridge, along with the Center Street Swing Bridge built in 1900 and the B&O Railroad Scherzer Lift Bridge built in 1907, all notable structures in the history of bridge engineering, remain today as the King Bridge Company’s legacy to the City of Cleveland.


During the 1880s, there was much discussion among the communities on the south and west of downtown Cleveland and the city council about the need for a new high-level crossing of the Cuyahoga River valley. Finally in 1885, the council approved a plan for two connected bridges, the first, a Central Viaduct of 2,839 feet from West 14th Street (Jennings Avenue in University Heights) to Carnegie (Central Avenue) in downtown, and the second, an extension called the Walworth Run of 1,088 feet from Abbey Avenue to Lorain Avenue. The King Bridge Company won the contract to build the entire structure that was started in 1886 and completed in 1888.[8]

The construction of the bridge required innovative methods and techniques. It consisted of a series of iron deck trusses of varying lengths supported on iron towers of varying heights, with a central moveable span over the river that had to be constructed without interfering with river traffic. The central span was constructed by building cantilever sections out from the top of a masonry pier without the use of falsework. The engineering journals of the time featured a number of articles about the construction methods used and the King Bridge Company catalogues of the 1890s devoted four pages to the structure. The completion of the Central Viaduct was a cause for civic celebration. It was opened with great fanfare in December of 1888 and featured a parade of soldiers and civilians marching to the center of the structure to hear speeches by various dignitaries, including Zenas King. This was followed by a grand banquet at the Hollenden Hotel, with messages of congratulations from John D. Rockefeller, a former Euclid Avenue neighbor of Zenas King, and President Grover Cleveland.[9]

After a speeding streetcar fell off the bridge in 1895 when the draw was open, the moveable center span was replaced by a fixed span. The central part of the structure was in operation for 53 years, until 1941, when, despite the efforts of some preservationists, it was torn down and 500 tons of metal were melted down to serve in World War II. It is now replaced by the structures that carry Interstate 90 across the valley. The Abbey Avenue branch remained in operation for another 40 plus years, until the 1980s, when it too succumbed to the ravages of time and traffic.

Pictures of the viaduct can be found in a number of places on the web, including HAER:


and also (


The last major structure built by the King Bridge Company is the center span of the Detroit-Superior High Level Bridge, now called the Veteran’s Memorial Bridge, connecting downtown Cleveland to the communities on the near west side of the Cuyahoga River. It was completed in 1918 after four years of difficult construction and in the literature of the time was called “one of the finest specimens of engineering art to be found anywhere in America.” At the time it was completed, it was the largest reinforced concrete and steel bridge in the world.

The Cuyahoga County Engineer’s office designed the bridge and supervised its construction. The entire structure is 3,112 feet long and consists of twelve concrete arches of varying sizes and a steel arch span of 581 feet crossing 96 feet above the Cuyahoga River. It was designed with two decks, one for rubber-tired vehicles and the other for streetcars. The King Bridge Company won the contract to build the center span for $646,747. A number of other contractors were hired to handle other pieces of the huge $5.4 million project, including the Hunkin-Conkey Construction Company which built the concrete arches and superstructure and with whom the King Bridge Company would have a number of disputes as the work progressed. When work was begun in 1914, Zenas King had been dead for 22 years, and eldest son, James, was very ill and had retired as the company’s president. Zenas’s youngest son, Harry, was president, but was active with other interests. So the management of the project fell mainly to Harry Fuller, the company’s vice-president and chief engineer.

The nation’s engineering professionals followed the construction of the bridge with great interest.[11] Once opened it served not only as one of the region’s main traffic arteries but also as a subject of postcards showing important features of Cleveland’s skyline; the bridge stood in the foreground and the Terminal Tower in the background. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. After close to seven decades of continuous service, the bridge was extensively rehabilitated in 1996 to last well into the 21st century, the only one of the six major King Bridge Company bridges to survive. For the two hundredth birthday of the City of Cleveland in 1996, the great bridges spanning the Cuyahoga were arrayed with lights as a tribute to their role in the city’s history and are now on permanent display. Three of the eight bridges in this colorful display, including the Detroit-Superior Bridge, were built by the King Bridge Company.

[1] “Bridge Building on a National Scale: The Kung Iron bridge and Manufacturing Company” by David Simmons, IA,The Journal of Industrial Archeology, Volume 15, Number 2, 1989 – page 35

[2] See David Simmons, The King Iron Bridge and Manufacturing Company, op.cit., page 35.

[3] From an article in the Albany Democrat-Herald of September 16, 1999 by Connie Petty

[4] See David Simmons , The King Iron Bridge and Manufacturing Company. Op.cit , p 35

[5] From an article in Power Pictorial Volume 13, November 1928 by D. Sr. Pierre DuBose, “ Electric Arc Welding Saves Time and Material” pp 61-63.

[6] From an article in The Republic: St. Louis, Mo. Saturday Morning , April 13, 1889, page 3

[7] See David Simmons “Bridging the Flats: Navigating the Streets and Railroads of Cleveland”, in The Proceedings of the 7th Historic Bridge Conference, September 19-22 2001, published by the Watson Bridge Book Collection of Cleveland State University; page 148.

[8] The engineer’s office of the City of Cleveland created the plans for the structure. At the time the engineer in charge of construction for the city was C.E. Force, who decades earlier had collaborated with Zenas King to develop the patent for the swing bridge sold by the Company all over North America

[9] See The Bridges of Metropolitan Cleveland, Past and Present by Sarah Ruth Watson Ph.D. and John R. Wolfs, P.E., page 32ff., in the Cleveland Digital Library (

[10] See “The New Detroit-Superior High Level Bridge” by Stanley L. McMichael in The Bridges of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County – 1918.

[11] The Engineering News Volume 71, No. 8 and The Engineering Record of Nov. 28, 1914 and Dec. 12,1915 carried extensive stories about the construction of the center arch.


King Bridge Manufacturing Company, News