Last month I delved into a dark section of Waco, Tx, past when I searched the business of prostitution which flourished in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The buzz of that activity took place in the area around the suspension bridge over the Brazos River.
Today the bridge is a popular spot for wedding photo ops, fraternity and sorority activities, and engagement pictures. Even baptisms take place in the river at the historic location, and families gather every 4th of July to watch a huge fireworks display. But the suspension bridge had a much more respectable place in history than simply being the location of the red light district in Waco or a popular spot for photographers.
Hundreds of thousands of cattle came up the Chisholm Trail from the Rio Grande Valley on the way to West Texas or Kansas, and it was the money from the new
cattle industry that brought Texas out of bankruptcy after the Civil War. However the crossing of the river was dangerous and time consuming. Businessmen in Waco knew they needed to come up with a solution to the dilemma, and proposed the monumental idea to build a suspension bridge across the Brazos River. Construction began in 1868 on what would become the largest suspension bridge in Texas at that time. The building materials were ferried from Galveston to Bryan, Tx, then brought overland to Waco. The twin towers, considered a modern-day miracle at the time were constructed of nearly 3 million bricks which were made locally.
The bridge collected its first toll on January 1, 1870. Five cents per head of cattle was collected from cattle drivers for the convenience of getting across the river without the danger of losing multiple heads of cattle by drowning. Two stagecoaches could pass by each other at the same time due to how wide the bridge was. The bridge quickly paid for itself, and in 1889 was turned over to McLennan County who no longer collected tolls for those using the bridge.
The place of the suspension bridge in Waco is not earth-shattering history, but it is a registered historical site and is worth stopping to see and imagine the rumble of cattle over the bridge. It is only used for foot traffic today and is a favorite spot for locals.
A multi-published fiction author, Golden Keyes Parsons and her husband, Blaine, live in Waco, TX. Her series, Darkness to Light, (Thomas Nelson) chronicled the journey of her ancestors in 17th century France and was a finalist for ACFW’s Debut Author of the Year in 2008. Her fourth novel, His Steadfast Love, a Civil War novel, was a National Readers Choice finalist. Parsons has also written a biblical fiction series entitled Hidden Faces, Portraits of Nameless Women in the Gospels (WhiteFire Publishing). You can contact her at www.goldenkeyesparsons.com.