By RUSSELL HUFFMAN
Already a Preservation Texas “Most Endangered Site,” the 1891 cable-stayed bridge in Bluff Dale, Texas, suffered erosion damage due to the recent storms that passed through Erath County last weekend, but the real damage to this little magical spot has been coming on for years.
It’s one of those little out-of-the-way places (County Road 149, Bluff Dale) everyone needs to visit at least once in their lifetime. It is a rare example of the innovative technology used by our ancestors. The bridge was a huge upgrade after vehicles were forced to forge the Paluxy River risking life and limb.
For more than four decades the bridge serviced vehicle traffic before backups and the lack of two lanes demanded a change. Originally, the bridge was suspended 15 miles downstream before it was moved to Bluff Dale in 1934 and began servicing traffic there until it was shut down to vehicle traffic in 1989.
Because the bridge was taken out of service, it no longer falls under the TXDOT maintenance program and as each year passes a little bit of our Erath County history slips away. TXDOT applied for Transportation Enhancement funds for a Historic Bridge Preservation Program in 2006 and the Bluff Dale bridge was included in the proposal. Budget cuts stopped the preservation plan and now the bridge along, with about 40 other historic Texas bridges, are without the needed funds.
Monday, as the waters of the Paluxy River receded, there was evident erosion damage to the bridge’s south end, which is probably going to add even more cost if the site is going to be saved.
In 2009, the bridge was named “The Most Endangered Site” by Preservation Texas after being nominated for the designation by the Historic Bridge Foundation and Erath County Historical Commission. Just one visit will convince most folks the organizations know what they are talking about. It’s a marvel, as the pictures here display, and it’s also fading fast.
The bridge’s 225-foot long span is wired with perhaps several thousand feet of cable that either need new ends or complete replacement. The nine-inch support pipe towers suspend its cables 28 feet above the river. Now covered in plant life, the site is a beautiful backdrop for photographs, and before it was closed to foot traffic it was the place to take a youngster to catch, perch, bass and catfish.
As a freshman at Tarleton State, it was one of my first photography class assignments and I will never forget the feel of its large metal plates moving as I walked across it. One can only imagine driving a vehicle across a bridge that rose and fell a little as you drove across it. It must have been a white-knuckled stomach-turning experience for those driving across for the first time.
It will also be a white-knuckling experience to see it one day collapse if the funding can’t be found to save it.