An early postcard looking northeast from the west side of the White River, dating from soon after the bridge completion. Later editions of this postcard pasted automobiles on the bridge and street. Note the path on the right side of the image; it probably led to the mansion that still stands just south of 16th Street.

After the great flood of 1904 (well, it was great until 1913’s flood), Marion County and Indianapolis, in cooperation with the Commercial Club, put out more than $800,000 for construction of four new bridges over the White River. The most impressive of these was the Emrichsville (or Emrichville) Bridge at 16th Street, adjacent to the south end of Riverside Park.

Pre-construction rendering of the bridge, looking south (Municipal Journal and Engineer, Dec. 1905)

H. W. Klaussmann, the county surveyor, was credited with designing this unique bridge, though it may have been someone else. J. Clyde Power, Indianapolis parks superintendent and co-owner of the Riverside Amusement Park, may have directed that the Emrichsville bridge be unusually elaborate to serve as a gateway to Riverside. While he was a recognized City Beautiful proponent for projects around the city, this one may still have been a conflict of interest.

Whoever designed it, the bridge’s unique medieval romanesque Bedford limestone towers and arch were intended to complement the nearby gateway to Riverside Park. The steel-reinforced concrete bridge was 300′ long, with a 24′ wide asphalt roadway and wide sidewalks that led into the park. The concrete bridge arches were veneered in stone and decorated with ornamented carvings and panels, including seashells and dolphins over the bridge piers. Central States Bridge Company was contracted to construct the bridge was $90,000, but the final price was $160,000.

1907 photo of the bridge from the Bass Photo Company Collection is here.

Photo from January 1912 issue of “Municipal Engineering”

Improvements to surrounding roads came soon after completion of the bridge. From the September 12, 1912 issue of “The Automobile” journal:

In keeping with a promise made the company some time ago, the city of Indianapolis is improving the Crawfordsville road from Indiana avenue to the Emrichsville bridge across Fall Creek [really the White River] in order to provide a passable highway for the Prest-O-Lite Company on the way to company’s new plant near the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

A summary from the August 1912 “Municipal Journal” shows the price of this road improvement at $10-15,000.

At some point in its history, stories says that the towers were used by the Riverside Park to display their bears.

Views of the bridge in 1921, 1935 (Bass Photo Company collection)

emrichsville-aerial-1941 emrichsville-aerial-1962
Aerial photos of the bridge, 1941, 1962. The Emrichsville bridge towers were on the northeast end of the bridge, adjacent to the then-entrance to Riverside Park. (IMAGIS)

Due in part to the continued pressure of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to improve the route from Indianapolis to Speedway for race traffic, but mostly due to the increase in traffic between downtown and the growing suburbs, the Emrichsville Bridge was replaced with a new 16th Street Bridge in 1948 and demolished in 1949.

Fortunately, owing to its picturesque design and park setting, the bridge was a favorite of postcard manufacturers, and many views of the bridge can now be found for sale on eBay and elsewhere.

5 responses to “Preservation Denied: Emrichsville Bridge”

  1. Doug Thompson says:

    ‘– In the past when our parents and grandparents were having to pay for things, then there wasn’t as much money, so it was all about the “cost” and how can they resolve the problem as cheap as possible ……. In later years we came to understand, that we only get one childhood, and you can’t bring it back, so “save” the keepsakes or they will be gone forever, thus recent generations have done a better job of preserving stuff, even if it costs more than replacing it. Xoxo, Doug and Deb.

  2. Richard Simpson says:

    I tend to believe that there was more pressure from the Indiana State Highway Commission to replace that bridge, since, at the time, that bridge was owned by the state as US 52 and SR 34 (three years after the bridge was replaced, SR 34 became US 136).

    Yes, the Speedway would have wanted better connections. But the ISHC would have HAD to improve the bridge because of both traffic numbers and traffic weights.

    US 52 turned west off of Lafayette Road, travelling to Northwestern Avenue (now MLK), which was then SR 29 (to become US 421), US 36 and SR 67. It is at the intersection of 16th and Northwestern that SR 29 ended.

  3. Richard Simpson says:

    Correction….SR 34 ended at 16th and Northwestern.

  4. Michael Fleetwood says:

    11-4-2018 On the south side of the bridge looking downstream, you can see a large rectangular structure underwater about 2/3’s of the way across from the East bank. It is approximately 15′ to 18′ wide and 100′ or so long (barge-like in appearance). This was not visible until the dam just south of this location breached in late summer/early fall of this year. It is visible when the water is clear and down. When the dam breached, the water level dropped about 6′ to 7′ and the levels were affected up to the bridge at 38th St. What is this structure and when did it sink. Any history about this available? I am very interested in the White River and have been around it for many years. I am currently working with The White River Vision Plan and found this while doing some work on the river. Thanks!

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