Bluff Dale’s historic cable-stay bridge is slipping away

The 1891 cable-stay bridge located in Bluffdale, Texas is endangered. NEWS & SPORTS – FREE & LOCAL


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.

The Bluff Dale bridge once serviced one-way vehicle traffic for more than four decades.
The Bluff Dale bridge once serviced one-way vehicle traffic for more than four decades.

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.

The bridge was closed to vehicles in 1989 and later to foot traffic.
The bridge was closed to vehicles in 1989 and later to foot traffic.

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.

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A large amount of soil was lost under the Bluff Dale cable bridge, but the real erosion has been the years of no maintenance.
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There’s no telling how old this sign is barring trucks from traveling over the bridge. Bit by bit the bridge has been shut down first to vehicles and now to walking traffic too.
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The nine-inch pipe towers suspend cable 28-feet above the Paluxy River.



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The Most Endangered Site by Preservation Texas thanks to the efforts of Historic Bridge Foundation and Erath County Historical Commission.
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Oh, the potential for bridal pictures this setting holds.
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Connected together the metal plates of this 1891 cable-stay bridge in Bluff Dale must have been a stomach churning event when driving a vehicle across it.
An example of one of the bridge's cable problems.
An example of one of the bridge’s cable problems.
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Time passing by.
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Leaving their mark back in March 1934.
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A closer view of the metal plate roadway across the bridge.

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  1. Someone forwarded this to me. Thought you might like to hear “the rest of the story”! After it was placed on the endangered list, we raised $3,000 for a bridge engineer from Austin known for preservation efforts to come and we were given an estimate of over $400,000 to rehabilitate the bridge. Obviously that is going to have to come from stimulus, enhancement funds, etc. as the county cannot spend that kind of money. I live on CR 149 where the bridge is located and drove it every day until it was closed in 1989. My grandparents forded the river before the bridge was moved there from down stream. My dad said there was once a pulley across the Paluxy that the younger set used to get across until a flood uprooted one of the anchor trees. I don’t know about the “slipping away”. Of course, it needs to be restored. Our goal is to convert it to a foot bridge once again. Right now, pedestrians are not supposed to walk on it. Thanks for the interest. Cathey Hartmann, Erath County Historical Commission chairman

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