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The history and significance of High Bridge in Jessamine County

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Posted at 5:32 PM, Jun 21, 2023

JESSAMINE COUNTY, Ky. (LEX 18) — Imagine as you're drifting along in one of the most beautiful places in Kentucky with the waters of the Kentucky River easing you through 300-foot palisades between Jessamine, Mercer, and Garrard counties. And then, you come upon one of the most impressive engineering structures devised by man, the High Bridge.

At the time of its completion in 1877 and into the 20th century, High Bridge was the highest railroad bridge over a navigable waterway in the world. It has been recognized by the Smithsonian Institution as an engineering marvel. It continues as a primary north-south transportation artery carrying dozens of Norfolk Southern trains every day.

It may be a bit of a stretch to say the community of High Bridge is a suburb of Wilmore, but High Bridge was actually here first.

"High Bridge had its own train station, and then Wilmore developed on its own after that with the mills and stuff," said Judy Woolums, who has lived here for over three decades. "They're like sisters now."

But, it's High Bridge Park that's now the focal point.

"Back in the 1900s, there would be excursion trains coming up from Cincinnati to spend the day at the park," she said.

Like many things, starting in the 60s and 70s, the park fell into disrepair.

"Maybe 20 years ago, Margaret Morgan with a group of locals who said we need to restore our park, restore this history," said Woolums. "And here we are today, one of the most heavily used public facilities in all of Jessamine County."

High Bridge's name may be known to railfans and historians, but it's water that has led to its greatest name recognition.

Linda Griffin is the president of Highbridge Springs Watersoit, and she's seen a lot of changes in the company's 40 years.

"When we started in 1982, the community of High Bridge was more a group of little houses with some people who were more rooted in the 1970s than in the 80s," she said. "It was a little like the wild west out here."

And remember, 40 years ago, no one had heard of bottled water.

"We bottle close to 20,000 gallons a day," said Griffin. "In the beginning, it was maybe 1,500 gallons a day."

And now, folks drink Highbridge Spring water from Pennsylvania to Georgia. They're also a great corporate citizen in Wilmore and beyond.

When the world-famous revival came to Asbury, Highbridge Springs stepped up.

"We donated water the second day and as it continued, we started taking it by pallets to the Fitch's IGA and Asbury itself."

The thing about High Bridge, you have to be trying to get here, but it's so worth the effort.

"It's a wonderful place to come and relax," said Woolums. "It's a jewel; it's a gem."