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Waco Suspension Bridge and the Chisholm Trail

Updated on July 19, 2014
The Waco Suspension Bridge
The Waco Suspension Bridge
The Waco Suspension Bridge in Waco, Texas
The Waco Suspension Bridge in Waco, Texas

The Waco Suspension Bridge spans the Brazos River near downtown Waco, Texas. Prior to the bridge being built, it was rather difficult to cross the Brazos River. The only way to cross the river was via ferry. As Waco began to grow with the Chisholm Trail, local businessmen decided a bridge would assist the city's growth. Waco had become a stopping place for cattlemen as they drove their herds to market. Waco business leaders received a charter from the state in 1866 to build a permanent toll bridge over the Brazos.

The bridge was built by John A. Roebling and Son and supervised by Thomas M. Griffith. At the time, supplies for building the bridge were not plentiful in the area and they had to be loaded onto a steamer in Galveston, and ferried to Bryan. From there, they were loaded onto wagons pulled by oxen. To make matters worse, the road from Bryan to Waco was a dirt road riddled with potholes. The bridge cost an estimated $141,000 to build.

It's interesting to note that Roebling later designed and built New York's Brooklyn Bridge, which opened in 1883, using the same technique and style.

The Waco Suspension Bridge has twin double-towers that anchored the span and was considered quite a marvel of engineering for its time. These towers contain nearly 3 million locally-made bricks.

The bridge was a toll bridge and collected its first toll on January 1, 1870. With cattle being charged at 5cents a head to cross in addition to the pedestrian traffic, it didn't take long for the bridge to become profitable since it was the only bridge to cross the Brazos.

In 1889, McLennan County took over ownership of the bridge for $75,000 and no longer charged tolls. The county then sold the bridge to the City of Waco for $1.

In 1913-1914, the bridge saw some major reconstruction. They replaced the older steel with higher gauge, and trusses were added to accommodate the span to carry heavier weights.

When I was a little girl, I remembering my family driving across this bridge quite a few times. But by 1971, the bridge had seen over 100 years of traffic and it was decided that it was time to retire the bridge from vehicular traffic. This bridge played a major role in transforming Waco from a small frontier town to a major commercial center and it was sad to see it close, but it was nice to know it would now be better preserved for future generations to enjoy.

Nowadays, the bridge is open to foot traffic only and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. During the spring and summer months it's not uncommon to see teens in prom attire, or future brides in wedding gowns posing for pictures on the bridge. Quite a few people have even held their wedding ceremony on the bridge.

Every year the city of Waco, with the assistance of local merchants, hosts a big 4th of July celebration including a large fireworks display at Indian Springs Park located adjacent to the Waco Suspension Bridge.


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