Brazos River

Tour curated by: Baylor University Institute for Oral History & The Texas Collection

Providing a constant water supply, means of transportation, and fertile farming ground, but also serving as a site of frequent flooding, the Brazos River shaped the story of the communities which grew upon its banks. Throughout history, it has proven a constant thread in the life of Waco. Though it benefited local farmers such as the Waco Indians and subsequent white cotton planters, the river hindered merchants in the late nineteenth century who possessed no means of crossing the often volatile waters. The construction of the suspension bridge in the 1870s provided the first reliable means of crossing the Brazos, while also establishing Waco as a commercial hub. Violent flooding in the early twentieth century prompted efforts to control the river and its tributaries, leading to the creation of Lake Waco. Today, the tension created between the river’s assets as a resource and its dangerous waters continues to shape the history of Waco.

This tour highlights a few of the sites impacted by the Brazos River and invites you to explore the way in which the waterway shaped the city’s history.

Locations for Tour

The Brazos River proved to be both a blessing and a curse for Waco, providing a constant water supply, means of transportation, and fertile farming ground, but also serving as a site of frequent flooding and destruction. This tension shaped the…

The city of Waco derives its name from the agrarian Indian tribe that originally resided in the area. The Hueco, or Waco Indians were a band of the Wichita tribe that arrived in Central Texas in the 1700s. The tribe’s early history is difficult to…

In the years leading up to 1870, the Brazos River proved to be both a blessing and a curse to the city of Waco. During that time, no bridges spanned the eight hundred miles of river flowing through Central Texas, forcing cattle drivers moving up the…

For nearly half a century, cotton reigned as king of Waco's economy, establishing the once small frontier town as a thriving urban center known throughout the country. The area later named Waco held a long history of agricultural pursuits…

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…

Before the construction of dams along Texas rivers in the mid-twentieth century, many cities experienced severe flooding. The Brazos River Basin frequently flooded, wreaking havoc upon those who lived near the banks. Although periodic flooding aided…

Throughout its history, Waco has been affected by a constant cycle of drought and flooding due to its prime location near several major rivers. The construction of Lake Waco Dam was one of the most successful efforts to address these issues,…

Prior to local and federal efforts in the mid-twentieth century to control rivers through the construction of dams, the Brazos River routinely overflowed its banks. In 1913, the most violent flood to date overwhelmed East Waco, taking two lives and…

Lake Waco is a reservoir and artificial lake which serves a variety of functions for the city of Waco. The dam was built in 1929 in order to control flooding of the Bosque River and to provide the city with a reliable water source. In 1961, a modern…

One of the largest municipal parks in Texas, Cameron Park has provided Wacoans with ready access to natural beauty and recreational activities for over one hundred years. Though it is hard to imagine Waco without the 416-acre Cameron Park, the city…