Texas Almanac, 1992-1993 Page: 45
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CENTRAL TEXAS HISTORY 45
The original, medieval-style design of the Waco bridge towers shown here was changed during a major recon-
struction in 1913-14. Photo courtesy The Texas Collection, Baylor University.
The Waco suspension Bridge
" w r
s ? BBBI
The Waco Suspension Bridge
Until the late 1860s, the only way to cross the Bra-
zos River at Waco was by ferry or by fording the river
when the water was low. Capt. Shapley Ross had oper-
ated a primitive ferry across the river at Waco since
1849. But the Brazos could be treacherous after a rain
and sometimes was impassable for days at a time.
Waco business leaders received a charter from
the state in 1866 to build a permanent toll bridge over
the Brazos. Even with money scarce and interest
rates high during Reconstruction, the Waco Bridge
Company sold all its stock. In mid-1868, the company
chose to work with John A. Roebling and Son of Tren-
ton, New Jersey, in designing and building a new sus-
pension-type bridge. Roebling designed and built
New York's Brooklyn Bridge, which opened in 1883,
using the same technique and style. Civil engineer
Thomas M. Griffith, a Roebling employee who had
with similar bridges, was the actual designer and con-
Work began in September 1868. At that time, Waco
had no machine shops or any artisans with the skills
to build a bridge of this magnitude, and the nearest
railroad was 100 miles away. The woven wire cables
and other components were shipped to Galveston by
steamer, transferred by rail to Bryan, then taken by
ox wagons on a rutted, dusty road to Waco.
Construction began with the excavation for the
footings of the twin double towers that would anchor
the span. The towers, which required 2.7 million local-
ly produced bricks to construct, were topped with
nelated ornamentation resembling a medieval castle.
Workmen carried wires across the river to form the
massive cables that would support the wooden
roadway. The span was completed in late December
1869, and the first tolls were collected on January 1,
1870. The $141,000 structure - the first bridge across
the Brazos - was dedicated five days later. The main
span was so wide that two stagecoaches could pass
each other, and it was 475 feet long.
Not only did the bridge company charge people to
cross, but it also collected five cents per head from
cattle drovers "for each loose animal of the cattle
kind" that used the span. Since the Chisholm Trail
went through Waco, a large number of cattle lum-
bered across, which helped the bridge company to re-
tire its debt. Most drovers, however, still chose the
cheaper alternative of swimming their herds across
The Waco Suspension Bridge triggered Waco's
transformation from frontier outpost to city. The
waves of immigrants heading west after the Civil War
used this easy way across the Brazos. These travelers
also needed supplies and equipment of all kinds, re-
pairs for their harness and fresh horses and mules.
Waco met their demands, and it prospered and grew.
The year the bridge opened, there were slightly more
than 3,000 people in Waco. Ten years later, the pop-
ulation had more than doubled to 7,295.
The bridge operated as a toll bridge from 1870 to
1889, when it was sold to McLennan County. The coun-
ty turned it over to the City of Waco to operate as a
free bridge. Major reconstruction was done in 1913-
1914. The pier towers were rebuilt and stuccoed, with
the medieval crenelations were supplanted by a much
plainer design. Stronger steel cables replaced the
original ones. Steel trusses were added on both sides
to enable the span to carry heavier loads and to pro-
vide walkways. The bridge reopened in 1914 and was
used by vehicular traffic until 1971, when it was re-
tired to the rank of historical monument.
Today it is open for pedestrian traffic in a park
just east of the Waco central business district near the
site of the original Waco Springs. The Waco Suspen-
sion Bridge is on the National Register of Historic
Places and has a Texas historical medallion.
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Reference the current page of this Book.
Kingston, Mike. Texas Almanac, 1992-1993, book, 1991; Dallas, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth279642/m1/49/: accessed August 20, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.