The Twin Icons: Bi-State Vietnam Gold Star Bridges

*Post written by James Wethington, senior library assistant at the University Archives and Special Collections.

Another local icon in the Tri-State is the Twin Bridges, officially known as the Bi-State Vietnam Gold Star Bridges. For over eighty years, a bridge has connected Evansville, Indiana and Henderson, Kentucky. Many locals would talk negatively about the bridges because they have suffered numerous structural issues and traffic headaches for motorists over the years. Without the bridges, the cities of Evansville and Henderson may not have grown into what they have become today.

Audubon Memorial Bridge between Evansville, Indiana and Henderson, Kentucky.
Audubon Memorial Bridge between Evansville, Indiana and Henderson, Kentucky, n.d. Source: Evansville Postcard Collection (RH 033-313), n.d. University Archives and Special Collections, USI.

Construction started at the beginning of 1932 and was completed by mid-July 1932; however, there was only one span (the original span is the current north bound bridge). The bridge had a toll for many years. When the bridge was first built, it was referred to as the Henderson-Evansville Bridge because it connected the two cities together. Once completed, Indiana and Kentucky threw a huge celebration to launch the opening of it with a parade featuring Kentucky governor, Ruby Laffoon and Evansville mayor, Frank Griese. After them, the parade presented the advancement of cars (going from horse and buggy to gasoline cars). Once the bridge was opened, it was named the James John Audubon Bridge, honoring the famous ornithologist who lived in Henderson, Kentucky in the early 1800’s.

Audubon Memorial Bridge, between Evansville, Indiana and Henderson, Kentucky.
Audubon Memorial Bridge, between Evansville, Indiana and Henderson, Kentucky, n.d. Source: Evansville Postcard Collection (RH 033-315), University Archives and Special Collections, USI.

The bridge allowed traffic from US Route 41 to travel on because the route goes north and south from Miami, Florida to the Keweenaw Peninsula in Michigan (covering over 2,000 miles of road). Within its first year, it was estimated over one million people used the bridge and would increase by 48,000 cars in the following five years. The bridge did have a small toll, which would be eliminated in March 1941.

By the mid-1950’s, Kentucky and Indiana were exploring the idea of adding a second span to the bridge (currently the south bound bridge) to alleviate traffic congestion. The construction was supervised by Indiana and opened in July 1965. Unlike the original opening in 1932, there was no grandiose celebration. The following year, the north bound bridge was closed and underwent much needed repairs. The bridges would experience one more major change that would occur four years later.

Cars approach to Ohio River Bridge in Evansville, Indiana, 1937.
Cars approach to Ohio River Bridge in Evansville, Indiana, 1937. Source: Thomas Mueller Collection (MSS 264-2414), University Archives and Special Collections, USI.

Over Memorial Day weekend on May 31, 1969, the bridges were official named the Bi-State Vietnam Gold Star Memorial Bridge. It was an tribute to Vietnam War veterans for all Hoosier and Kentucky soldiers who died in the Vietnam War. The dedication began with a luncheon at the University of Evansville, where over 300 people attended (including local family members of soldiers who were killed in Vietnam). Major General S. H. Matheson from Fort Campbell, Kentucky spoke, and memorial poems were read shortly before the ceremony moved to the Twin Bridges. The northbound bridge was closed for the on-site ceremony. Carl Henze, whose son, Randall, was killed in Vietnam, stated, “I think the rededication of the bridge as a memorial to the war dead is wonderful. This is one of the finest things that could be done. It seems the boys who are killed in Vietnam don’t get much recognition. So, this is really wonderful” (Wersich, 1969). This had to be an honor to be a part of because renaming two bridges for those who fought and served in an unpopular war like Vietnam is a real tribute and sign of love to them. Though the bridges have been a sore subject for many, the bridges are a true icon for the Tri-State after eighty-eight years of faithful service.

Construction of southbound twin bridge between Evansville, Indiana and Henderson, Kentucky, c. 1965.
Construction of southbound twin bridge between Evansville, Indiana and Henderson, Kentucky, c. 1965. Source: Sonny Brown Collection (MSS 228-0074), University Archives and Special Collections.

The photographs in this blog are from various collections at the University Archives and Special Collections (UASC) at the David L. Rice Library at the University of Southern Indiana. There are over 44,000 photographs, videos, audio files, and documents available for research. If you need assistance, please contact UASC at archives.rice@usi.edu or (812) 228-5048.

References Consulted

Boyett, F. (2019, May 23). Twin bridges renamed in 1969 to honor Vietnam War dead. The Gleaner. Retrieved from https://www.thegleaner.com/story/news/2019/05/23/boyett-twin-bridges-renamed-1969-honor-vietnam-war-dead/1208751001/

Bridge dedication. (1932, July 5). Evansville Press. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/351GGJX

Croft III, J. H. (1965, December 17). Dedication of span, bypass climaxes states’ program. Evansville Courier. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2zrPL2P

Lents, A. (2007, June 28). Twin bridges: 75 years old and counting. 14 News. Retrieved from https://www.14news.com/story/6723321/twin-bridges-75-yrs-old-and-counting/

Luncheon to start bridge dedication. (1969, May 31). Evansville Courier and Press. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2YnZ6TE

New bridge opens door to greatest era of progress. (1932, July 25). Evansville Courier. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2yHUGw6

New bridge over Ohio opened late in 1965. (1965, December 29). Evansville Courier. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2KAxm6k

Wersich, C. (1969, May 31). Relatives of Viet causalities proud of memorial. Evansville Press. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2KIbp5c

This entry was posted in Architecture, Evansville, Indiana, Local history. Bookmark the permalink.

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