January 9, 2018
The original toll bridge that was constructed to connect Louisa and Fort Gay, WV (originally called Cassville, WV) was known as the Louisa-Fort Gay Bridge.
It was officially opened to the public at 4:00 p.m. on Wednesday, June 27, 1906 with Flem McHenry as bridge-keeper. The original toll charges were three cents each for pedestrians (two cents to go to or from the Point Section) and 15 cents for a car and driver plus three cents for each passenger.
The bridge reportedly was featured in Robert Ripley’s “Believe It or Not,”syndicated to hundreds of newspapers around the world. The span was considered unique because it crossed two rivers, connected two states, two counties and two towns and had three exits-entrances. A common local joke in giving directions was to tell someone to “Drive to the center of the bridge and turn right.” Such a turn carried a traveler from Louisa to the Point Section between the Forks of Tug and Levisa.
The final tolls were collected on Thursday, September 30, 1971 from Governors Louie B. Nunn of Kentucky and Arch A. Moore, Jr. of West Virginia. The old narrow bridge has been replaced by a wider, more-modern bridge.
The bridge from Louisa, in eastern Lawrence County, to Fort Gay, West Virginia is something of a geographic and architectural oddity. The quarter-mile concrete span spans two forks of the Big Sandy River, connects two states and has a right turn at its halfway point, which connects traffic to the Point Section neighborhood of Louisa.
Louisa, the county seat of Lawrence County, KY, lies at the confluence of Tug and Levisa Forks of the Big Sandy River, on a two-thousand acre tract of land surveyed by George Washington in 1769, the corners of which were well-marked with Washington’s initials. Settlement was attempted in 1789 at The Point, between the forks, but it was abandoned. A settlement called Balclutha existed for a short time afterward west of The Point. The settlement that became Louisa began about 1815.
The Forks of Big Sandy post office opened in 1819 and the Louisa post office opened in 1822. In 1823, a court house was erected in the center of the public square. The building was a two-story frame house, 35×30 feet, weatherboard side, and a wood shingle roof. The first story was 12 feet high, with sleepers 2 feet apart. According to old records, there were “two 12 light windows in the end of this large room.” The second story had two partitions forming three rooms. Each room had “one 18 light window in the side.” The old town pump was located near the court house, on the corner of Main and Main Cross Streets.
By 1830, Louisa had 87 inhabitants. In 1846, the town contained a court-house, church, post-office, four stores, two doctors, two lawyers, and several mechanics’ shops. River traffic opened up in 1837 with the first steam boats chugging down the Big Sandy. Push boats and flatboats were still in use, especially when the river was low. The steamboat landing in Louisa was located near the end of Main Street. Many of the boats would go as far as Pikeville when the river stage permitted, which was often in the spring of the year. They would be heavily loaded with supplies and return with local products for markets east, such as ginseng, feathers, wool, beeswax, chestnuts, as well as dried apples and peaches.
In 1843, Daniel Bayless Vaughn moved from Wood Co. VA to Louisa where he kept the “Big Hotel” and pursued his trade of merchant tailor. He was a steamboat man from 1852 to 1860, running the “Tom Scott” on the Sandy River. He built 5 large steamers, and 4 smaller ones to run on Sandy.
In 1860, Archibald Borders, an influential businessman and first Lawrence County judge, built the famous steamer “Sandy Valley”. Judge Borders owned a large brick house which stood at the grade and was facing Main Street. The house was built before the Civil War. Also situated on the property were the Borders Servants Quarters. Archibald Borders owned half the block between Main and Madison Streets.
His son, A. P. Borders shipped goods on the steamer to various ports along the Big Sandy Valley. A freight bill, dated Dec. 18, 1860, for a shipment to J. Richmond, to be delivered “at the Port of Louisa, KY,” shows every product imaginable that was taken up the river, such as crockery, yellow ware, sugar kettles, grass rope, stoves, hats and shoes, liquor, cheese, fish and specifically herring, black powder and German steel, raisins, paper, soda, pepper, coffee, indigo and madder, etc.
The steamboats also represented the main means of transporting passengers to and fro the Big Sandy Valley until the advent of the railroad in the 1880’s.
A stage coach line to Mt. Sterling, a distance of 103 miles, connected Louisa with the interior of the state. Weary travellers could rest at the Gallup Hotel, acquired by George W. Gallup in the summer of 1860 which stood on the banks of the Big Sandy River, near the steamboat landing, on Main Street in Louisa. The hotel keeper was Henry S. Bussey. A ferry, operated by George R. Miller, crossed the river at the end of Main Street just below the mouth of Levisa and Tug to Cassville, Virginia [now Fort Gay, West Virginia].
Daryl W Skaggs