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Texas | Columns | "Texas Tales"

Regency Bridge
Over Colorado River

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox

When you’re standing on a suspension bridge and the span begins to bounce as a car starts across, it may be necessary to suspend an instinctive urge to run.

This is especially true with the Regency Bridge, which crosses the Colorado River 23 miles from Goldwaithe to link Mills and San Saba counties. Looking down at the river below, a normally robust appears to be considerably smaller.

Suppressing hard-wired flight impulses can be even more difficult if you’ve pulled off Mills County Road 127 to read the 1976-vintage historical marker summarizing the bridge’s history. The first bridge on this site was built in 1903. That structure, a traditional truss bridge, lasted only 23 years – practically a blink of an eye when it comes to public infrastructure typically designed to last a half-century or more.

Regency Suspension Bridge Historical Marker in Goldthwaite, Texas
Historical Marker "On Fisher St (183/16) in front of the First Baptist Church in Goldthwaite"
Terry Jeanson photo

Unfortunately, what the first bridge’s builder surely considered impossible happened on May 9, 1924 when a rancher and his two sons pushed a herd of cattle across the bridge. The structure gave way under the weight of the livestock and fell to the river below. The father and one son managed to make it to the other side. But the other boy, only nine, plummeted to his death along with numerous cattle.

The turn-of-the-century bridge had not been subject to a lot of traffic, but it was the only bridge for miles around, so Mills and San Saba county officials proceeded with having it rebuilt as soon as possible. With no state money used, a new bridge opened in 1931. All went well until the spring of 1936, when a torrential flood washed the second bridge away.

In 1939, the Dallas-based Austin Bridge Co. won the contract to erect a third suspension bridge at a cost of $30,000. Workers earning 30 cents an hour added concrete to the earlier bridge’s piers to raise it above flood stage and hand-strung the 475 lengths of wire forming each of the four cables that suspend the bridge over the river.

TX - Mills County Regency Suspension Bridge  over Colorado River
The Colorado River Regency Suspension Bridge
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, March 2008

“And brother, we worked,” Lamar Morris told a writer for Texas Highways Magazine back in 1970. “Had to. There was always someone who was huntin’ a job there to take your place.”

Ninety percent of the work was done by hand. The rest took only one gasoline-powered concrete mixer, a winch truck and a steam shovel.

The bridge is supported by four 3.25-inch thick steel cables connected to two welded-steel towers on each side of the river. The main span is 343 feet long, but counting the approach spans, engineers list the bridge’s overall length at 403 feet. The wooden deck of the bridge is 16 feet across.

Long before a bridge crossed the Colorado at this point, a pioneer named David Hanna settled in the area in 1854. He used two slaves to grow crops in the fertile river valley. Later, David’s four brothers and his father came to the area and stayed. The reason they didn’t move on, at least according to legend, is that their wives liked listening to all the songbirds in the trees along the river’s banks.

As other settlers arrived, the area became known as Hanna. That name stuck until the citizens applied for a post office and found some other place had the same name, so the community was renamed Regency. By 1890, 50 families supported a general store, church, cotton gin and gristmill. Five years later, the population hit 200, the largest it would get.

The post office closed in the 1930s and the last store went out of business in 1971.

Barely three decades after its construction, the bridge’s days seemed numbered. The Texas Department of Transportation, then more simply known as the Highway Department, had plans to demolish the bridge in 1971 and span the river with a new concrete structure.

That plan never materialized, but by the early 1990s, the pre-World War II bridge had really begun to show its age. With an infusion of federal funds earmarked for bridge restoration projects plus 15 percent in state and county money, TxDOT engineers oversaw the revitalization of the bridge.

Then Gov. George W. Bush spoke at the span’s rededication in the spring of 1999. Some 2,000 people showed up for the event.

The most recent development in the bridge’s long history came on Dec. 29, 2003 when persons unknown started a fire on the span’s wooden flooring. Now iron patches cover the holes burned through the planks.

Today, the New Deal-era bridge continues to handle a light traffic flow, though its wooden planks have once again begun to show their age. Most of the timbers are splintering and some nails have pulled loose.

The Regency Bridge is one of only a pair of suspension bridges in Texas still open to traffic, with four other such bridges still standing but not in use.

© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" December 6, 2013 column
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