Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Abandoned World War Two Bailey Bridge, Shelbyville, Kentucky

Located in downtown Shelbyville, Kentucky, this abandoned bridge is hidden amidst trees and terrain.  Hiding with it is a strange secret, that it is unlike any other bridge in the state of Kentucky.  How so?  Its a relic of World War Two, a portable Bailey Bridge, designed to be installed by combat engineers in the middle of a battle.  How it got here is unclear, but it doesn't seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.

Sherman Tanks crossing a canal in 1945 on a Bailey.  Note the damaged bridge in the background.
 World War Two, unlike any way before it, was based on mobility.  Men and machines raced across battlefields, desperately trying to take objectives in an effort to knock the enemy off balance.  A common tactic to delay an advancing army was to destroy all of the bridges crossing a given river.  The solution, patented by Ronald Bailey in 1941, was a human sized "erector set".

Diagram from Bailey Bridge manual.
Constructed of bits and pieces that could be moved and assembled by a group of men, a Bailey Bridge could be built to cross almost any obstacle.  It could be built onto the piers of the original bridge, or simply placed on boats and used as a pontoon crossing.  Additional sections could be used as piers, and the bridge could even be pushed across a river on giant rollers, having been built safely on the "friendly" side.

Strange signage leading to the now-closed bridge.
How this bridge ended up in rural Kentucky is unclear.  The abutments are much older than the bridge, so it seems likely that the Bailey was installed as a temporary replacement structure.  However, it is now closed, again for reasons unclear.

Concrete barriers prevent cars from getting near the bridge.

Another humorous sign.  A well placed Bailey can hold an army tank that weighs over 30 tons.
Path down to the bridge.

And, out of nowhere, the bridge appears.  One end is blocked with a chainlink fence, the other with concrete blocks.  It has been shut down for several years, and no plans to reopen it are known.

A view of the bridge and its wooden deck.
This bridge has two panels on each side.  Bridges could be built with a single panel, or as many as were required to support the weigh of the bridge and its traffic.
Another view, showing the two panels, connected with horizontal panels.  The entire bridge is bolted together.  There are no welds or rivets anywhere, and the bridge could be taken down and used somewhere else.
A close up shot of the bridge deck.  It is made of steel beams going across the width of the bridge, with wooden boards traveling the length.  All of these parts are easily replaced.
 To make the bridge even more strange, its clear that parts of it were made in England.  Some panels are marked to the "Thos Storey, Engineers Limited" based in England.  Storey was one of the original manufacturers of the Bailey Bridges in WW2, and is still in business.  Is this one of the original wartime bridges? 

Thos Storey bridge panel.
Other panels are marked "BBI", having been made or rebuilt in the US by Bailey Bridges Incorporated, located in Alabama.  This company is also still in business.

BBI marked panel.
End cap of the Bailey.  Note the giant pin and cotter key holding it together.
Bridge abutment, viewed from above.
I have to assume that this bridge was closed because of its crappy abutments.  They don't simply look decayed or in need of repair.  It really looks like stones were just piled up and crossed with decking.  The little mortar present is cosmetic, and isn't doing anything to hold the stones in place. 

A final view from the other end of the bridge.
The future of the bridge isn't clear.  Unless someone moves it, it simply isn't going to go anywhere.  The thing weighs too much and is far to strong to collapse on its own.  Hopefully it gets moved to some sort of museum, or returned to service in another location  Regardless, it is an interesting land mark.

To keep up with all of our updates, be sure to "Like" us on Facebook or follow us on Blogger.  Thanks again!


  1. There was a covered bridge at this location until sometime in the early 1900s. It was replaced by an iron through truss that was used until about 1980 when it was replaced by this bridge.

    Walter Laughlin

  2. This bridge was once on Mt. Eden Rd in the southern part of the county. The old bridge was the Jail Hill bridge named for the road it was a part of. The location was the site of the towns hangings due to it being behind the old jail

  3. I remember this bridge when I was a kid it was on Mount Eden Road going towards Mount Eden or going towards Shelbyville on 53 it was right in a bad curve and when they redone the whole row they took it up cuz we had to move cuz they took our house had some great memories on that bridge and under it and around it