The cows have come home — the bronze kind, that is — signaling the end stages of the $12.4 million in renovations that have kept the Waco Suspension Bridge off limits since late 2020. Waco Director of Conventions and Tourism Dan Quandt said he hasn’t nailed down a date for reopening yet, but the view of the project from the office at the Waco Convention Center is hopeful.
Over the past two and a half years, the 153-year-old bridge shed its stretched, old cables for German-made replacements, got a shiny paint job and upgraded its wood footpath for a combo of durable ipe wood and concrete, among other transformations. Unanticipated work related to custom-made hardware and drainage issues has extended the project a year past its initially projected completion date. But Quandt said the bridge has been “closed long enough to get it right,” to fix what needs to be fixed and to do it the proper way so the bridge remains historic.
People are also reading…
“I’m just ready to be able to tell that story a little more graphically again because it’s a critically important story,” Quandt said.
He said the bridge, as a historic symbol of Waco, is used on many of the city’s promotional products, and it is a huge driver for tourists visiting downtown and the developing river corridor. He said it is exciting with so many projects happening nearby, including Baylor University’s basketball arena and road improvements along University Parks Drive, that the Suspension Bridge could be the first to be unveiled.
The bridge was built and opened first in 1870 as the only bridge that spanned the hundreds of miles of river cutting through Central Texas. The Suspension Bridge, an uncommon innovation for the area at the time, gave cattle drivers on the Chisolm Trail and others traveling for commerce a reliable way to cross the unruly Brazos River. Even commercial ferry operations often were unable to facilitate crossings in the era before flood control dams upstream added a measure of predictability to the flood-prone Brazos.
“When you think of the beginnings of Texas and especially crude oil … we were the cattle kingdom,” Quandt said.
In 1914 the bridge got its first major renovation: 14 new, thicker cables to replace the stretched-out originals that renowned bridge engineer Thomas Griffin procured from John A. Roebling and Son, a New Jersey-based firm best known for the Brooklyn Bridge.
Now, the monument anchors Martin Luther King Jr. Park on the east bank and Indian Spring Park on the west bank, joined by the “Branding the Brazos” artwork featuring bronze longhorn cattle and drovers similar to those that once walked the bridge. Workers recently moved sculptures back into place that had been relocated to make way for the project.
“That bridge connected us in many ways to the world. … Without it I don’t know what they would have done,” Quandt said. “We were in the right place at the right time then, right place at the right time now.”
Quandt, who has worked in Waco since 2021, said he would travel through the city often in his 50-year career in conventions and always marvel at the bridge. He said it is a major fiber in Waco, bringing together communities and showing the city’s lasting importance.
“It’s not just a beautiful structure,” he said. “It’s so much more than that, and I think people can sense that.”