Crossing the Wabash
Leaving from Mt. Carmel for Princeton, you drive east on Walnut Street, down the hill, across the railroad tracks, and then on to the bridge. As your tires hit each of the expansion joints, you hear a muffled "thump- thud" noise, and the steel girder spans cast a spider web like shadow across the road in front of you. It's just another routine trip over to Princeton, and it's not much of a big deal. Not so long ago, crossing the Wabash River was not always so easy.
Robert Ballentine established the first ferry boat across the Wabash at the mouth of the White River in 1817. Over the years various types of boats and ferries were used to transport people, locomotives, automobiles, livestock, and assorted goods from Mt. Carmel to the Indiana side. In 1932, America was in the midst of The Great Depression. Jobs were scarce and people needed mobility. The need for a bridge between Mt. Carmel and Princeton was essential, with the two cities within a few minutes drive of each other.
On June 24, 1932 the hurdle between the two cities was officially taken away. Unfriendliness between the two states had been ironed out, and the Mt.Carmel-Princeton Free Bridge was complete. The massive 2,722 foot, steel and concrete structure, was dedicated with a ribbon cutting ceremony and other special events. The Princeton Band approached from the east end of the bridge playing "Indiana," and the Mt. Carmel Band approached from the west playing "Illinois." As both marching bands met near the center, the two ensembles blended into one playing "On the Banks of the Wabash."
At one time, Indiana and Illinois decided to paint its own half of the bridge a different color in order to distinguish the State line in the center of the river. With the Indiana's side black, and the Illinois side white, it was mentioned in Ripley's "Believe It Or Not" as the only multi-colored bridge in the nation.
Violet "Vi" Collins recalls a time in 1947 before Wabash General Hospital opened. The river came up and was frozen over onto Highway 64 when her husband Charles suffered a dangerous attack of appendicitis. Thick ice covered the road way, and two frozen tire ruts carved out the way to Princeton. She remembers that an ambulance made it over to Mt. Carmel from Princeton to pick up her husband. On the way back to the Princeton Hospital, the ambulance was stalled in the tire ruts by other traffic, which could not move over to the side of the road for the emergency vehicle. Charles came close to death that night. Dr. Lowenstein was there to assist Princeton surgeon Dr. McCarty with the emergency appendectomy. Dr. Young was also over in Princeton that evening to deliver a baby, when Charles' dire condition became even more critical. Vi recalls him coming into the room with his head broken out in a sweat, "we thought we were going to loose him" she remarked. Virgil Carroll was a true friend indeed that night; he helped to save the life of his work partner and pal with an arm to arm blood transfusion. Vi also recalls that the river was up when she went into labor with her daughter Janey in 1950, so Dr. Young delivered her at home.
Look backing, Bev Keneipp recalled that during WWII, Dr. Morris ran his own little clinic on the corner of 9th and Mulberry. He would deliver babies there, or in Princeton and he had his own private airplane he would fly over to Princeton when the water was over the road. She remembered visiting the old Princeton Sanatorium. "The hospital would get so full they had to put patients in the hallway." Mt. Carmel welcomed a medical facility of their own when Wabash General Hospital was completed in June of 1951. The historic Methodist Sanatorium building still stands at 411 State Street in Princeton.
Gibson County completed their levee system in June of 1966 making it crucial for a flood wall on the Illinois side. A levee on only one side of the river would force all the water directly into Mt. Carmel, creating an even greater concern. A ground breaking ceremony for our present levee system was held later that same year. By December of 1967, Mt. Carmel's flood wall was 90 percent finished with 15,564 feet of earth and 1,734 feet of concrete wall stretching from Seventh Street to Greathouse Creek. Due to continued problems with high water, the levee project was not officially completed until 1969.
Today, we drive back and forth between Mt.Carmel and Princeton with little to worry about, although at times, that 11 mile stretch of Indiana Highway 64 can seem a bit like a German autobahn.
Historically Speaking for June 16, 2000 Kim Sievers