Monday, January 20, 2020

The Waco Bridge From the Old West

Location: Airport Park Campground (Corps of Engineers); Waco, Texas

all pictures taken with Google Pixel 2XL cell phone
click picture to enlarge

First: So far, no Argentine Ants hitched a ride with me to this campground. 
This is Stop #3

The tow here was another short trip of about an hour with nothing special happening along the way. The location of this campground is near the airport and that may scare people away from staying here. That's fine with me since the assumption of loud planes doesn't exist. Today is day 3 of a 4 day stay and I've only heard one plane during that time and it was a small private plane. I have a great campsite with full hook-ups near Lake Waco which I can see out my door and windows. My campsite is one of about 6 or so other campsites located on a little loop within the campground. There is a large multi-unit shower house located behind me that some of the campers are using. In the 6+ years I've lived in Liberty, I've only used the campground showers once. That was in a county park near Chattanooga, TN. But, I'm being tempted by this one so close to me. Maybe a long shower of hot water would be a nice change of pace from the Navy showers I take. Maybe. The weather has been great so far with lows in the mid 30's but warming up nicely to the low 60's with clear skies.

My Campsite overlooking Waco Lake

I couldn't decide which campsite picture to use, so I put both of them in.

One of the views out my windows

A look out the door of Liberty towards the setting sun. 
One of the reasons for my stop here was to see an old bridge that used to be the longest single span suspension bridge west of the Mississippi River. The bridge is in downtown Waco and crosses the Brazos River. Waco was formed in 1850 and located where the Huaco Indians used to live. Huaco became Waco by the non-Indian settlers. Fifteen years later in 1865, the American Civil War had ended. During the war years, the longhorn cattle that the soldiers had left to fend for themselves while they went off to war had been breeding. They were everywhere in central and south Texas and generally available to anyone who wanted to rope and brand them. But due to their overpopulation, the price per head was only about $4.00 and not worth bothering. But the opposite was true up in the northern and eastern states. Due to the war, many cattle had been killed and were in short supply. A cow up there may be worth $40.00 a head. But how to get them from Texas to the high dollar markets? Well, one way was by railroad. Coincidentally, the Transcontinental Railroad was under construction and crossing Kansas. It would not be completed until 1869, but there were enough tracks from the east to make it available for hauling cows back east. So began the cattle drive years. Rounding up longhorns from central and south Texas and driving them north along the Chisholm Trail to the rail heads in Kansas.

So, where does the bridge come into all of this? Well, some of the business people in the newly formed city of Waco got together around 1865 and decided to build a toll bridge across the Brazos River. They figured it would be beneficial to the city since the river cut the town in two. After 5 years of construction and $140,000 they opened the longest single span suspension bridge west of the Mississippi River on January 7, 1870. By comparison, the Brooklyn Bridge was still 13 years from opening. It was the only bridge crossing the Brazos River and the owners were granted a 25 year guarantee, from the State, that no other bridge or ferry would be located within 5 miles of the bridge. All of this came together at the right time for the cattle drives. The cattle drives were given the choice to swim the herd of cattle across the river or pay the 5 cent per cow toll to use the bridge. It was cheaper and safer to use the bridge. There is no telling how many 10's of thousand or 100's of thousand head of cattle crossed the bridge. Remember, there were more than 5 million cows that traveled on the heart of the Chisholm Trail.
Looking down the centerline of the bridge. 

Statues of cowboys and cattle on both sides as they simulate the old cattle drives across the bridge.

Pedestrian walkways are on each side of the bridge. That is one of the two main cables on the left. Most later suspension bridges around the country would not have the cables so close to traffic and people.

Standing in the center of the bridge looking upstream. That again is one of the two main cables.

Looking towards the bridge with the cables leaving their saddles and coming into their anchorages on the left and right.

From the bank looking towards the bridge. I don't know the history of the old piers in the foreground.

Farther along the Riverwalk and looking back towards the bridge. The memorial in the foreground is to the fallen law enforcement officers in the area.
The trail drives ended when the railroad started building spur lines across Texas that connected to the main lines. It was then that the public started complaining about the toll on the bridge. So, in 1885, fifteen years after it opened, the private owners sold the bridge to the county for $75,000.00. The county, in turn, sold it to the Town of Waco for $1.00. After several rehabilitation projects over the years, it remained open to public vehicular traffic until 1971. Since then, it has served as a pedestrian bridge to connect both sides of the Brazos River. Waco has done an excellent job of creating a nice Riverwalk of parks on both sides of the river. 

I have two more days of exploring this area and have a couple of other things to see and do. At first, I thought four days would be enough time, but now I'm not too sure. But since reservations have been made through February 5th, moving day will have to be the 22nd.
Sunrise over the lake as seen from Liberty's small upstairs window.
Ya'll take care of each other. I'll Cya down the road.    


  1. I loved that bridge many years ago. The day I got to spend there was wall to wall wows at all the neat things in town. It is now on my must return list. Be safe.

    1. It will be waiting on you Barney and this COE campground is a pretty good one.

  2. We really enjoyed Waco. Since we are big Dr. Pepper fans we had fun at the Dr. Pepper museum. Walt is doing great and I'm thinking about a new post. You have a great campsite.

    1. Hello Barb, I'm glad Walt is doing great. A little re-hab and ya'll will be back on the road. A new post would be good. I used my blog as a way of updating Brandon's condition, plus it is interesting to read it now after so much time.