History Swings in Southeast Texas Bridge’s Favor

Thu October 31, 2013 - West Edition
Jose D. Enriquez III - BEAUMONT ENTERPRISE




BRIDGE CITY, Texas (AP) It was a bridge, only one of two like it in Texas, slated to be demolished and replaced.

Concerned Orange County residents like Mark Dunn formed a committee — the Bridge City Citizens for Historic Preservation — to help fight for the preservation of Cow Bayou Bridge, which was said to be ahead of its time when completed 72 years ago.

The bridge has been designated as a historical place with the Texas Historical Commission and also has found its place in the National Register of Historic Places.

Most recently, the Texas Transportation Commission allotted $9.5 million for an overhaul to bring the bridge back to complete working order.

“The technology of the bridge back in its day was like a marvel,’’ he told the Beaumont Enterprise. “Only two bridges like it remain in Texas.’’ The other bridge also is in southeast Texas, in Deweyville, but it has to be manually cranked to open. The Cow Bayou bridge operates with a motor.

Dunn said Cow Bayou Bridge is where Bridge City originally got its name.

“The city grew up around that area of the bridge,’’ he said.

To Dunn, however, the bridge is more than just history. It’s a memory.

He said in a September 2009 Enterprise article that, as a child, he “loved to watch the Cow Bayou Swing Bridge on Texas 87 open as a small tugboat, sometimes pulling a barge of shell, passed.’’

“I remember we were always excited to see the bridge open,’’ he said in 2009.

Dunn didn’t like the idea of losing the landmark.

The group received support from preservation societies like the Historic Bridge Foundation. It offered to the committee to be a consulting party of the Section 106 process, which requires “federal agencies to take into account the effects of undertakings on historic properties.’’

Dunn said a huge help came from the foundation, specifically the foundation’s executive director Kitty Henderson, who he said helped emphasize the importance of its historical status to the National Register of Historic Places.

The bridge stretches alongside Texas 87 and rests on a concrete pier. It pivots 90 degrees to allow watercraft to pass on either side.

“This project has been in the planning stages for some time now,’’ said Tucker Ferguson, district engineer of the Beaumont District of Texas Department of Transportation. “It’s a historic bridge, so it was important that this be a restoration project instead of a rebuild.’’

The last time it was operated as a swing bridge was in 2003. The renovations, which will begin at the end of the year, are expected to be completed by 2015.

According to an application to the National Register of Historic Places, the bridge qualified for designation under the engineering significance: “Property embodies the distinctive characteristics of a type, period or method of construction or represents the work of a master, or possesses high artistic values, or represents a significant and distinguishable entity whose components lack individual distinction.’’

The bridge was modeled after the Deweyville Bridge, now the “Texas 12 Sabine River Bridge.’’

The Bridge City Citizens for Historic Preservation has disbanded since the bridge’s addition to the historic places list. Dunn said all they wanted to do was educate the public.

“A lot of people didn’t really have any idea what the significance of the bridge was,’’ he said of Cow Bayou Bridge. “Both of our bridges are namesake bridges with the historical registry.’’

The bridge will be remodeled and renovated down to the last button in the wheelhouse.

Dunn said the bridge will look like it did when it was completed in 1941 despite minor damage it received in Hurricane Ike.