The Wreck of the Brazos Bridge

While I was searching for information about the Newcastle Variety Store earlier in the week, I ran across the newspaper advertisement of the town lot sales in 1908: the town’s founding. The Perkins Townsite Company of Decatur, Texas ran a full-page ad of the sale, set for September 22, 1908. Newcastle was 55 miles south of Wichita Falls, the terminus of the Wichita Falls & Southern Railway, and the home of the largest bituminous coal field in Texas. The seven reasons Perkins cited for the future growth of Newcastle were:

  • Reason No. 1–Coal
  • Reason No. 2–No Company Stores
  • Reason No. 3–Farming
  • Reason No. 4–Terminus
  • Reason No. 5–Location
  • Reason No. 6–Building Material
  • Reason No. 7–Brazos River Bridge

A large area of coal was discovered in 1908 and a coal company had two shafts in place by mid-year and situated mining machinery with expectations of producing 1200-1600 tons per day of coal at the highest quality. Additionally, the coal mining company did not intend to have a company store, and this was a marketing tool to develop business in the new community. Farming was productive and the railroad ensured support for trade. While growing up in the area, it never occurred to me that the location was a plus, but Perkins described it as:

…situated on a high mesquite prairie, about one mile from the Brazos river. This gives a view commanding the entire surrounding country and affords perfect natural drainage. ..comparatively few hot days during the summer and the nights are invariably cool and pleasant. ..a more picturesque location can not be found in Texas.

Auction on Sale of Town Lots Newcastle Young Co. Texas Tuesday, Sept. 22. The Wise County Messenger, Sep. 11, 1908, p. 3.

Sandstone was plentiful and useful for construction. A contract for a wagon bridge across the river was scheduled for the fall which would improve transportation when the river was up, permitting travel to Throckmorton.

The bridge was completed in 1908-1910 by Mitchell & Pigg, with three suspended spans and the main span of 700 feet, and cables of steel wire.

Fort Worth Star Telegram, Nov. 10, 1926, p. 1.
1930 collapsed bridge, historic photograph in the Will Beauchamp Collection

Newcastle, Oct. 29. – (AP)- Damage estimated at more than $100,000 resulted early today when one of the cables suspending the 1100-foot bridge over the Brazos river, two miles southwest of Newcastle, gave way and more than half was left suspended in midair.

The bridge, erected in 1910, at that time claimed the distinction of being the longest bridge west of the Mississippi river. It crosses the Brazos river on Highway 120 between Newcastle and Throckmorton.

Big Brazos Bridge Collapses in River. (Oct. 29, 1930). Brownsville Herald, p. 8.

According to the Tyler Morning Telegraph on October 30, however, the bridge collapsed upside down in the river when both of the suspension cables snapped due to their being worn and decayed. The first cable broke, swinging the bridge to one side which caused the second cable to break and the entire 978 foot span dropped into the river. The break occurred prior to dawn and no one was injured.

1932-33 replacement bridge

In 1931, a year after traffic was detoured between Throckmorton and Newcastle via Olney, the new bridge was planned and in 1932, bids sought for construction of the 5 40-foot steel I-beam spans, 5 171-foot through truss spans, concrete floors, 20-foot roadway, concrete caisson type piers, steel cylinder type bents, and roadway approaches (Fort Worth Star Telegram, Jan. 15, 1932, p. 21). Plans were made for the celebration to christen the new bridge. Over 6,000 people attended the April 1933 celebration where Newcastle digniteries and six “pretty girls” cracked open a bottle of grape juice to dedicate the new bridge.

This bridge served the community until 1989 when a new bridge was constructed north of bridge, now listed on the National Register of Historic Places

One of Dad’s old stories was how the young people on the bridge began dancing and the bridge began shaking and they made everyone get off. He was 8 at the time, and probably in secure tow of his mother’s hands while hanging on to his 2 younger brothers. On the banks of this river, Dad would go to work as the dragline operator when a cave-in took the life of one of his co-workers.

Dad, Sue, Russ, Jane at the gravel plant in Seymour c. 1957

This entry was posted in Brazos River, Bridges, Family, Historic Downtowns, Texas, Young County and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to The Wreck of the Brazos Bridge

  1. davidprosser says:

    So lucky there was n-one on the bridge when it happened. It seems a relatively short time when the new bridge is up and running though, and with extra width to allow for car traffic.
    hUGE hUGS

    Liked by 1 person

    • Suzassippi says:

      It was originally built as a wagon bridge with one lane. I found one vintage picture that showed it took 23 minutes for one vehicle to cross as it was a one-lane. But, as you know, not all historical records are accurate, nor are our memories. But I have to say that Dad’s ususally checked out, and I share that gift with him. How big is a huge hug? As big as the Brazos River bridge at Newcastle?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Betty says:

    Interesting post! I would say I have one “irrational” fear – that of bridges! After reading this – perhaps not so irrational after all. This post does make me wonder about the history of bridge inspections. Did this incident spur any oversight? I think my fear of bridges is linked to a real event in my childhood where a bridge (somewhere) fell, cars were on it at the time, the news reel in my mind has the bridge twisting before falling. I’m always happy when I make it across a bridge!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Suzassippi says:

      I am not certain about oversight. One item said the cables were worn; others said it was the result of flooding. The cables were made of thick strands of steel wire, twisted, and wrapped with wire. The bridge I photographed near Woodson was also a suspension bridge, and the cables, while still intact since the 1800s, were rusted. Bridges do fail, and buildings do collapse, so it might not be at all irrational, even if the odds are greater it will not fail.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. “pretty girls” cracked open a bottle of grape juice to dedicate the new bridge.”. Hmmm, sounds like official Texas was dry then. They could have visited a speak easy to find a bottle of champagne.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Suzassippi says:

      Young County remained dry a long time after prohibition was repealed. People either drove to Stephens County where there was a liquor store on the county line for every highway coming from Young County, or over to Lake Possum Kingdom in Palo Pinto County. I also discovered that Newcastle started a bottling plant to bottle grape juice as the grapes were growing really well in the area and they thought it would be a successful venture.

      Like

  4. Pingback: The Wreck of the Brazos Bridge — Suzassippi’s Lottabusha County Chronicles – The Bridgehunter's Chronicles

  5. Bill Harvey says:

    The report may have said the second cable broke but it ain’t true. If you look it is clearly still there, with all its (somewhat bent) hangers. I presume the big lumps on the end of said hangers were bolted in a way that allowed them to unzip along thebridge when over loaded.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Suzassippi says:

    Thank you for commenting, Bill, and helping set the record straight. One of the things I have learned from the newspaper archives is that details reported often varied from one account to the next. I appreciate the input from a bridge expert.

    Like

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