Notes and Documents
Waco: Cotton and Culture on the Brazos
ROGER N. CONGER*
IN 1870 WACO IN MCLENNAN COUNTY BECAME TWENTY-ONE YEARS OF
age; and on January 6 of that year her magnificent new suspension
bridge across the Brazos River was officially opened by its developers,
with a tumultuous celebration. The exulting was fully justified, sig-
nalizing as it did the completion of a feat of frontier enterprise not
exceeded in the state's history. From start to finish the undertaking
had required less than two years of working time, in an outpost com-
munity entirely devoid of such essentials as machine shops and skilled
artisans, and with the nearest railroad a hundred miles distant. All the
requisite steel trusses and massive woven wire cables had been located
and procured at Trenton, New Jersey, from the pioneering John A.
Roebling firm, which built the Brooklyn Bridge a few years later.
After coming down to Galveston by steamer, these burdensome com-
ponents were relayed by rail to Bryan, and from there by ox teams up
the rutted sandy road to Waco. A resourceful local contractor, George
Dutton, was able to hoist them into position. The supervising engi-
neer, Thomas M. Griffith, had been brought down from New York.
When it proved impossible for him to obtain suitable cut stone any-
where in the vicinity for the cable towers, Waco-manufactured red
sand bricks were substituted with some reluctance, and just under
three million of them went into the graceful, castellated structures.
At the outset the bridge's total cost had been estimated, seemingly
with all care and best judgment, at $5o,ooo; but by opening time, due
partially to the prevalent inflation of the era, it had mushroomed to
the near-disastrous total of $141,ooo.' But the fact remained that it
*Mr. Conger, a vice-president of the Association, is the author of many historical
works, including Highlights of Waco History and A Pictorial History of Waco.
'Roger N. Conger, "The Waco Suspension Bridge," Texana, I (Summer, 1963), 186-192;
Official Records, The Waco Bridge Co., Local Research Department (Waco-McLennan
County Public Library); John Sleeper and J. C. Hutchins (comps.), Waco and McLennan
County, Texas (Waco, 1876), 20o, 2.
sOfficial Records, The Waco Bridge Co.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 75, July 1971 - April, 1972. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101201/. Accessed March 30, 2015.