Washington Avenue Bridge

The Washington Avenue Bridge is a steel, Pennsylvania through truss bridge that spans the Brazos River and connects East Waco to downtown. Before the construction of the Washington Avenue Bridge, the Waco Suspension Bridge, built in 1870, offered the only reliable way for individuals to cross the river. However, by 1900 Waco was a booming city, and another bridge was necessary to lighten the load on the thirty-year old structure. 

Construction on the Washington Avenue Bridge began in 1901 and was completed in 1902, with John Wharton Maxey of Houston as the lead architect, and John H. Sparks from St. Joseph, Missouri, as the contracting engineer.  Once the bridge was completed in July of 1902, it was tested by sending five vehicles from the city fire department, including engines, hose carts, and wagons, across at varying speeds.  At one point they went as fast as if they were traveling to an actual fire.  The bridge passed this test and was opened soon after that. At the time, the Washington Avenue Bridge was the sixteenth longest bridge of its type in the United States and the longest Pennsylvania through truss in Texas and the rest of the Southwest.

The bridge was first repaired in 2004 to fix cracks that were found in some of the tension rods.  It then underwent a renovation that lasted from 2009 to 2010.  During this renovation other cracked parts were repaired and missing pieces were replaced with similar materials.  In addition, the bridge was painted black, which a paint analysis had revealed to be its original color.  The restoration work replaced less than 5 percent of the original material, and in 2011, the Texas Department of Transportation received an award for Excellence in Restoration of a Structure from the Historic Landmark Preservation Commission of Waco.  Today, the Washington Avenue Bridge is still traveled by vehicles and pedestrians, which makes it the oldest and longest Pennsylvania through truss still in use in the United States.

Images

Modern Crossing

Modern Crossing

Supervising engineer John Wharton Maxey supplied this sketch of the planned Washington Avenue Bridge for the Waco Weekly Tribune. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Approach to New Bridge

Approach to New Bridge

This sketch provides an early glimpse of the twenty-four-feet-wide asphaltum roadway designed to facilitate vehicular traffic across the bridge. Two special roads for foot passengers, one on each side of the bridge, measuring six feet wide each, are also featured. The star motif and ornate gables indicate that the bridge was intended to be as aesthetically pleasing as it was functional. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Site of Tragedy

Site of Tragedy

On August 8, 1905, Sank Majors, an African American man, was lynched from the bridge after a mob broke him out of the McLennan County jail. Majors had been convicted of raping a white woman from the area, but his lawyer filed a motion for a new trial, claiming his previous trial had been unfair. Fearing that a mistake would be made during the new trial, and not wanting to wait any longer for his execution, a mob of Waco citizens unjustly decided to take the matter into their own hands. | Source: Image courtesy Kathleen Young View File Details Page

Built to Last

Built to Last

The Washington Avenue Bridge is still traveled by vehicles and pedestrians, making it the oldest and longest Pennsylvania through truss still in use in the United States. | Source: Image courtesy of the Kathleen Young View File Details Page

Audio

The Impact of the Flood of 1936

Frank Curre Jr. tells about the Flood of 1936 and its impact on the Washington Avenue Bridge. | Source: Curre, Frank Jr., interviewed by Mark Firmin, January 28, 2009, in Waco, Texas. Baylor University Institute for Oral History, Waco, TX. View the full interview View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Kathleen Young, “Washington Avenue Bridge,” Waco History, accessed May 23, 2017, http://wacohistory.org/items/show/65.

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