Memories of Bluff Dale's old swingin’ bridge.
By CATHEY HARTMANN
“Meet me at the swingin’ bridge” in Bluff Dale has meant only one place for those who grew up in the area.
The iron trestle spanning the Paluxy River on CR 149 was built in 1891 on highway 10 which was the major thorough-fare through Bluff Dale (changed to 377 later), but was moved upstream to its present location in 1933 by the WPA.
Residents of the county road had been fording the creek when the water was at low levels, but stayed home when flooding and heavy rains caused the water to rise.
This road, also called Berry’s Creek, does not go through to the north so crossing the Paluxy is the only way out. I was told that at one time there was a tram system where a person could grab hold and be carried across, but a flood took out one of the big trees it was attached to, so that was the end of the tram.
Since I grew up on Berry’s Creek Road, I have probably more memories of the old bridge than anyone else. Like the time my mother met a car in the middle of the bridge! She was driving with me and my little sister in the front seat and as we approached the bridge, she assumed the car coming from the other direction would stop because it is a one-way structure.
But to her horror, she heard the other driver yelling, “No brakes.” All she could do was hit her brakes and hope they held both cars on the bridge. Before she took her foot off the brake, she had me take my sister off the bridge for fear the cars might go tumbling.
I never thought much about the swaying as you drove across, but many friends expressed concern if not intimidation at crossing.
When you stood in the creek below, there definitely was a swinging action as a car passed. After my sister and I learned to drive, we could drive to the bridge then had to let a parent drive across.
Soon, we were racing across just like everyone else. I even had a date from Stephenville park his grandmother’s car and walk almost a mile to my house because he didn’t know if she would want him to cross it. Needless to say, we never had another date!
In 1978, the bridge received a historical marker from the Texas Historical Commission, only the second one in Bluff Dale.
Later it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and the state’s antiquities list.
It was closed to vehicular traffic in 1989 due to concerns about safety for weight, and residents used a low-water bridge located beside it, but just as early residents faced, there were times when the creek was too high to cross.
It became a habit to take a car to the other side of the creek if a storm was predicted, then you could walk across the bridge the next morning if the creek was high and drive off.
In 1990, the county built a one-lane concrete bridge that is in use today.
In 2009, the bridge was placed on Preservation Texas List of Endangered Places and at the ceremony in Austin was called “the rarest bridge in Texas.”
It is actually not a suspension bridge, but a “cable-stayed” bridge and is the oldest one in Texas and possibly in the nation.
A historic bridge engineer gave us a bid of almost half a million dollars to rehabilitate the bridge to keep it as a footbridge and preserve it for future generations. We sought out various funding through grants and entitlements, but were unsuccessful so nothing was done to stabilize the Bluff Dale landmark.
About three months ago, the bridge started sagging on the east side toward the concrete bridge. It was obvious from looking at the pylon on the south side of the creek that years of flooding had eroded the bank and the support was actually leaning causing the bridge to sag.
The county’s first concern was that if the bridge came down, it would impair the concrete bridge which as I said is the only way out for residents of CR 149.
Commissioner Joe Brown spent two weeks working on the road to the low-water bridge so there would be a suitable way to cross the creek in case of an emergency.
The only course of action seemed to be to remove the bridge before any damage occurred so Commissioner Brown submitted a request to be able to do that, but the Texas Historical Commission and the SAL (States Antiquities List) immediately notified the county to leave the bridge alone.
They were not to touch it until a review had been completed which might take 60 days. Last week, we received the results of the review and after sending engineers to study the bridge, they concluded there is “no significant risk of imminent collapse” so the demolition request was denied.
I was disappointed that they did not submit an alternative plan, no suggestions what to do with the bridge, or any mention of funding that might relocate the bridge to a park or some other venue.
Those of us who love the “old swingin’ bridge” would hate for it to leave our neighborhood, but if that is what it takes to save it, then we would be happy to visit it at another location.
The memories we have and the role this historic relic has played in our lives can’t be taken away.
Cathey Hartmann is a local historian and regular contributor to Beneath the Surface News. She lives in Bluff Dale.