MOTOR Texas

Waco Suspension Bridge


waco suspension bridge

The Waco Suspension Bridge crosses the Brazos River in Waco, Texas. It is a single-span suspension bridge with a main span of 475 feet. It opened for traffic in January 1870. It is located north of Downtown Waco.

This bridge is pretty amazing and speaks volumes for the vision and industrious nature of Waco business people at that time.

  • It was built 29 years before the automobile arrived in Texas.
  • It was built before there was a Texas highway department.
  • It was built 14 years before Austin's Congress bridge over the Colorado river.
  • It was built 13 years before the Brooklyn bridge over the East River.
  • Waco had no machine shops that could produce the steel.
  • The nearest train was 100 miles away, so shipping bridge parts via rail was not an option!

History

waco suspension bridge drawing 1870

Waco suspension bridge, illustration from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, 1871

Joseph W. Speight appears to play a key role in the development of the Waco suspension bridge, according to this Waco Masonic Lodge 92 historical account:

"In 1866, Speight was in the significant meeting at Waco 92 where he proposed that a bridge ought to be built upon the Brazos. The result was the Suspension Bridge for which Speight was among six others in acquiring a charter. He was made director of the resulting Waco Bridge Company for his efforts in its creation and for years, the Company owned and operated the bridge with a series of Waco 92 members working as tollkeepers atop one of its towers."

Speight Avenue is also named after Joseph Speight.

In 1871, a popular journal named "Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper" featured a story on the Waco Suspension Bridge, and contained the following words: "The builder of the bridge was Thomas M. Griffith, engineer, of New York, whose practical judgment was put to a severe strain. The work was construced in a town where there were no machine shops ... He was obliged to improvise much of the machinery used in the construction."

The cable for the bridge was sourced from the John A. Roebling Company of Trenton, New Jersey, the same company that would later design the Brooklyn Bridge.

Almost all the metal materials were shipped from New York to Galveston. Then they were transported by oxen team to Waco.

The 3 million or so bricks used on the pillars were created in Waco.

According to Texas State History Online "[The bridge] underwent extensive modifications in 1914 to allow for increased traffic. The cable system was replaced, the roadway was reinforced with steel, and the towers were rebuilt and stuccoed."

Tips

The best place for parking and viewing the bridge is on the south side of the river.

The beautiful Chisholm Trail Cowboys and cattle sculptures are also on the south side of the river.

Every year on Independence Day, the bridge serves as a place where thousands of locals gather to watch fireworks.

If you see tortillas on old concrete pillars (the remnants of an old bridge), and wonder what's up with that (like I did)? The answer is, it's a Tortilla Tossing Tradition instituted by Baylor students. According to the baylorlariat.com website, "A campus legend says those lucky enough to land a tortilla on the installment will graduate from Baylor in four years." I'm sure tuition and good grades help too.

Location

The Waco suspension bridge is located on N. University Parks Drive, between Washington Avenue and Franklin Avenue. map


Related

Texas Roadside Attractions

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