Aug. 18 marks an important Owensboro anniversary.
On this special Wednesday in 1954, the community celebrated the Indiana-Kentucky Free Bridge Festival after the toll booths on the Owensboro Bridge collected their last toll.
Dr. Dan M. Griffith, an Owensboro physician, had the honor of paying the first toll on the bridge when it opened in 1940 and the last toll right before it became toll-free at 12:01 a.m. on Aug. 18, 1954.
The bridge that took 50 years to be approved and two years to build, needed 14 years – plus two months – of tolls to pay back the cost of construction.
“As a child, I stopped at the [Owensboro Bridge toll] booth countless times, watching my parents hand the man a dime,” Rick Triplett of Owensboro wrote in an email newsletter called The YellowBanks Clarion during the 1990s.
“I remember my mother grumbling at the nuisance (it was her father, Congressman Cary, who “arranged” the financing for the bridge; I guess she thought it should be paid for already), but I don’t remember her ever having to wait in a long line to pay, or even losing more than a few seconds on her journey into Indiana,” Triplett wrote.
The Owensboro Bridge often is called the “Glover H. Cary Bridge” and the “Blue Bridge;” however the bridge’s official name is Owensboro Bridge.
In Owensboro, the entrance has a plaque that says the bridge is “Dedicated to the Memory of Glover H. Cary,” but the name was never officially changed.
According to the events official program, the celebration of the toll free bridge lasted 13 hours and included a procession across the bridge from Indiana, luncheons for dignitaries and other guests at Hotel Owensboro and Gabe’s Restaurant, a parade through downtown and a fireworks display on the riverfront. An official ceremony to transfer ownership of the bridge from the Owensboro Bridge Commission to Indiana and Kentucky was also conducted on the courthouse lawn.
A second procession back across the bridge and all the way to Evansville marked the end of the festivities.
It was an action-packed late-summer Wednesday in Owensboro.