Politically speaking, the best of all landscapes, the best of all roads, are those which foster movement toward a desirable social goal. John Brinkerhoff Jackson, in Discovering the Vernacular Landscape
On my recent trip to Texas while researching the Eliasville bridge over the Clear Fork of the Brazos River, I ran across an item about the bridge built by the Works Progress Administration in 1940-1942 on the Brazos River below the Morris Sheppard Dam on Lake Possum Kingdom, Palo Pinto County. Until I saw the pictures with the article, I had forgotten about my visit to the bridge in 1980. Growing up a mere half-hour drive from Possum Kingdom, I had seen the dam many times, but the first time I had actually gone below the bridge as opposed to just drive over it was while a visiting friend and I were out exploring. I finally found time this past weekend to locate the photographs from that visit, taken with my Minolta 35mm.
Designed by the Texas State Highway Department, and built by the WPA, the bridge is the longest and most substantial masonry arch bridge in Texas. The engineers chose the design to withstand flood waters released from the dam a mile above the bridge.
G. T. Cushman in Michael Conan’s (ed.) Environmentalism in Landscape Architecture, described the WPA road, bridge, and landscape projects thus:
…built from locally abundant stone, bridges, culverts, and other drainage structures cost relatively little but demanded maximum labor.
In one noteworthy example, approximately 250 unskilled workers and 74 skilled workers employed by the WPA used over 7,200 cubic yards of limestone to build the spectacular 400-foot, eighteen-span bridge over the Brazos River just below the Possum Kingdom Dam…”
Many of the stonemasons employed on this project were former coal miners and had learned to cut stone underground. Records do not indicate how many of the workers were local, though neighboring Young County had at least one coal mine in Newcastle, which could have supplied some workers. Coal mining in Newcastle had ended by 1942 and there could have been unemployed miners qualified for this type of work. Then on the other hand, I recall my grandfather talking about the Depression years and his comment was, “We stood in line all day long waiting for the next man to be unable to lift another shovel so we could take his place for a dollar a day.”
…in the minds of their builders these structures also helped root new roadway construction to the existing natural and vernacular landscape by incorporating rustic or naturalistic architectural forms.
…designers juxtaposed an ancient engineering design with a modern concrete dam to create one of the state’s greatest achievements in landscape construction.
The total length of the bridge is actually 433 feet and 4 inches. The piers are founded on bedrock and are 3 feet wide, with the exception of piers 7 and 13, which are “bracing piers” and extend up to 5 feet.