Commentary

Bill Hanna: News of Kennedy Bridge's replacement brings back memories of Lake Herrington fun

Contributing WriterMarch 5, 2014 

They can tear down Kennedy Bridge over Herrington Lake and build a new one, but that will never erase the pleasant memories of the old bridge held by a generation of Central Kentuckians.

That thought might have occurred to many when they read of the planned demolition and replacement of Kennedy Bridge, which spans Herrington Lake at the Mercer-Garrard county line on Ky. 152.

In early February, state officials announced that a major bridge replacement over Herrington Lake as among several projects included for the counties around Lexington in the state's six-year road plan.

Replacing Kennedy Bridge is listed as a priority project. Construction is supposed to start in 2016 and continue into 2017. The plan includes $14 million for the project.

The bridge — officially it is named Kennedy Mill Bridge, but to the locals it has always been Kennedy Bridge — has outlived its usefulness as a traffic bearer; the highway department terms it functionally obsolete.

It was built in 1924 when Dix River was dammed to form Herrington Lake, which in turn would result in a hydroelectric plant to generate power for the area. The bridge was adequate for the relatively lightweight traffic of the time.

Mother Nature and modern traffic have taken a toll. The two narrow lanes have been resurfaced several times. An upward shifting of one of the main supporting piers has caused a hump in the roadway. So a new span is planned nearby, keeping the old one usable until the new one is built.

Here's the nostalgic news angle about the bridge: Those who frequented the lake in summer months of the 1930s and '40s for swimming, boating, tanning and other recreational purposes could be called the "lake crowd." They flocked from nearby towns because there was not much else to do in the days before television, iPads and everyone-has-a-car. Boys and girls, mostly in their mid- to late teens, came from Burgin, Nicholasville, Danville, Harrrodsburg, Stanford, Lancaster, Springfield, Lebanon and Lexington.

Groups would rent cottages for a week or more, depending on the wherewithal. Then would begin a summer social scene of swimming, tanning and dating. Kennedy Bridge was sort of the hub of an area of resorts, cottages and fishing camps. Ed Lane's Camp, Ashley's, John Shelby's Cliff Lodge and Wildwood (private cottages) graced the Mercer County side. Biggerstaff's Hotel, Jay Herren's store and Daughter's Park (private cottages) were on the Garrard County side. Those were just a few of the attractions in the area.

The lake crowd gathered at the bridge in various numbers and at odd times of the day or night. It takes a myriad of verbs and prepositions to describe the activities they enjoyed at the bridge, but at various times:

■ They dived from the bridge. If the water table was high enough to permit a plunge of 100 feet or less, the very brave or the very dumb would dive or jump into the lake.

■ They swam and boated under the bridge. It was a turning point for boaters whose arm strength from rowing or fuel shortage in the outboards needed to return to their camps. A swim around the piers was always fun.

■ They fished around the piers under the bridge. Often in hot weather largemouth bass would lurk in cooler water at the base of the piers, waiting for a night crawler dangling from a hook.

■ They danced on the roadway atop the structure. The surface was rough, but who cared when you were jitterbugging with your favorite partner to the tunes of Benny Goodman or Glenn Miller from the car radio.

■ They courted on the bridge. Many a first kiss was stolen — or given freely — on the bridge, a likely spot for "late dates" that began at 11 p.m.

■ They moon-watched on the bridge. Did you ever see the moon rise over the nearby cliffs and glimmer on the mini-whitecaps stirred on the lake's surface by a soft summer breeze?

So Kennedy Bridge will be wrecked, but memory will survive. Perhaps there's a memory bridge in your past. It might be a favorite haunt, a playground, a swim pool, a hamburger joint, a roadhouse rather than a bridge, but it's your memory.

Cherish it.

Bill Hanna, the former city editor of The Lexington Leader, lives in Lexington.

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