Few American cities can claim a landmark as distinctive as Cincinnati's Suspension Bridge. The Covington and Cincinnati Bridge, in 1984 renamed after designer John A. Roebling, and all the while called by locals simply "The Suspension Bridge", has been a symbol of the city since its opening in December of 1866. Images of the bridge can be seen today in all parts of the city hanging in homes, offices, restaurants, bars, waiting rooms, and as backdrops for the local television news. More than just a nostalgic decoration, the old bridge remains an important river crossing for thousands of cars and buses each day.
The bridge opened to pedestrians in December 1866, and the 1,057ft. main span was at that time the longest in the world, surpassing the Wheeling, WV suspension bridge (1849). Not only was the Cincinnati Suspension Bridge the world's longest, but it was also the first to utilize both vertical suspenders and diagonal stays fanning from either tower. This advance was next seen on the Brooklyn Bridge (also designed by John Roebling), which surpassed the Cincinnati bridge in length and almost every other statistical category in 1883.
Due to inflation during and after the Civil War, the original iron and oak deck was built as cheaply as possible. In 1894 tracks were laid across the deck but street cars were limited to a "walking" 1.5mph speed limit. Therefore in 1896 a complete rebuilding of the bridge deck was undertaken. While the original deck had been built cheaply, the stone towers were overbuilt and were capable of carrying a much heavier load. Therefore a second set of 10.5" main cables, a wider steel truss deck (a four track deck was even briefly considered, with outside tracks curving around the towers), and an extension of the northern approach were included in this project. In order to keep the bridge open and maintain the 100ft. height requirement, the old deck was jacked up several feet on its suspenders while work proceeded above, below, and around it. The new deck was built around the old deck from the towers towards the center, first hung from the new main cables, and then transferred over to the elaborate four cable arrangement seen today. The reconstruction significantly altered the appearance of the bridge, but allowed it to remain useful in the 20th century, with a 30 ton weight limit.
Originally painted brown, the bridge was painted blue in 1896 and decorative lights were installed along the main cables in 1984. The tower's domed steel cable saddles, a fixture since the 1896 rebuilding, were replaced by replicas of the original turrets in the early 1990's. A toll was collected up until the Brent Spence Bridge opened in 1963. The bridge was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975 and because of its still important central location remains the busiest of Cincinnati's four non-expressway automobile bridges. The bridge was last closed for major repairs in 1969, so it will likely be due for serious work within the next 20 years. It was most recently painted in 1980, and will be repainted in 2006 or 2007.