The Waco Suspension Bridge is a 475 foot single-span bridge that crosses the Brazos River in Waco, Texas. At the time of its completion it was the first bridge across the Brazos, and one of the world's longest single-span suspension bridges.
Before the construction of the bridge the only way to cross the Brazos in Waco was by means of ferry or fording. Capt. Shapley Ross began operating a ferry across the river in 1849, however after heavy rains the river was rendered impassable for days at a time. A more secure crossing was needed for commerce, primarily the cattle drives passing through Waco on the Chisolm Trail. Joseph Warren Speight had these economic concerns in mind when he introduced the bridge project in 1866. A group of prominent Wacoans formed the Waco Bridge Company, and were granted a charter by the state legislature on November 1, 1866. The charter stipulated that no other bridge could be opened on the Brazos within five miles of Waco for twenty-five years. The company chose Col. John T. Flint as president, and within three months he had raised $50,000 dollars towards the cost of the bridge.
The company chose John A. Roebling and Son of Trenton, New Jersey in mid-1868 for the design and building of a suspension bridge. Roebling and Son later went on to build the Brooklyn Bridge. A civil engineer employed by Roebling and Son named Thomas M. Griffith was the designer and construction supervisor of the Waco bridge.
Work on riverbed excavation and materials acquisition began in 1868. The cables were shipped to Galveston, Texas by steamer, then by rail to Bryan, Texas and finally to Waco by ox wagons. Cedar trees to be used in the foundation were floated down-river from the Chalk Bluff area. The towers were constructed from 2.7 million locally produced bricks, and were topped with crenelated ornamentaion. The total cost for the bridge was $141,000, a great deal above the original estimated cost of $40,000.
The bridge was completed in December 1869, and began collecting tolls on January 1, 1870. The bridge was officially opened on January 7, 1870 with a parade led by Kate Ross Padgitt, a philanthropist. The bridge collected approximately $25,000 in tolls annually including 5 cents per head for cattle.
The completion of the Waco Suspension Bridge transformed Waco from an outpost town to a transportation hub. Immigrants heading west would pass through Waco to cross the Brazos. Waco served as a place where these immigrants could get supplies, repairs and fresh mules and horses. This increase in commerce also led to an increase in population. When the bridge opened in 1870 the population of Waco was slightly over 3,000. A decade later the population had exploded to 7,295 residents.
The tolls quickly became unpopular, however plans for a free bridge were not made until 1886. After two years of court battles the United States Fifth District Court upheld the charter as binding until 1895. In a political move the Waco Bridge Company sold the bridge to McLennan County for $75,000 in 1889. The county sold the bridge to the city of Waco for $1 under the condition that the city would maintain the bridge. On September 1, 1889 the Waco Suspension Bridge was opened as a free bridge.
In 1914 the bridge underwent major modifications to accomodate increasing traffic. These included replacing the cables, reinforcing the roadway with steel and rebuilding and stuccoing the towers.
In 1970 the bridge was added to the National Register of Historic Places. It was closed to vehicular traffic in 1971, and received a state historical marker in 1976. Today the bridge is located in Indian Springs Park and is open to pedestrians, and is used for special events.