Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Building bridge across river was challenge

The first Red River Bridge south of Davidson was built in 1924 The road was part of the Lee National Highway.
Click Photos to Enlarge

Wooden bridge spanned Red River in 1924
Today’s travelers routinely zip at high speeds across the modern Red River Bridge south of Davidson, with no thought about the engineering feat that the bridge represents. In this area’s early history, though, crossing of the river and construction of the earliest Red River bridges presented great obstacles.
In 1976 Frederick photographer and writer Madge Cohea Dombrowski wrote an article for the Wichita Falls newspaper, giving a history of the original 1924 wooden bridge south of Davidson and construction of the concrete bridge, completed in 1939, that is currently unused but still spans the river.
Most of us remember Madge for her many decades of wonderful photography work, along with sister Norene Armour, at Cohea Studio. Madge also served as longtime Tillman County correspondent for numerous area and state newspapers.
Madge Dombrowski’s bridge article from 1976 follows in its entirety:  

“FREDERICK, Okla. – The Red River, the broad sandy river bed whose usual trickle of water separates the states of Texas and Oklahoma, was a problem to early residents travelling between Frederick and Vernon, Tex., for lumber, supplies and to catch the train.
“When the river was low, it could be forded but the mucky sand impeded passage of heavily loaded wagons. When the water was high, barges were used. To aid local commerce and transportation, it was clear to Texas and Oklahoma residents that a bridge had to be built.
“In 1924, plans were made to build the bridge near Davidson, Okla. It was to be the longest wooden bridge in existence – more than a mile in length and was to be called Frederick-Vernon Bridge.
“Construction of the bridge was by George D. Key’s company and Ernest Guyer, Tillman County engineer. Completion of the bridge opened relatively accessible travel between the two states.
“But the wooden bridge had its weaknesses. It was so long that high spring waters usually washed it out in the center, which took weeks to repair. When fire nearly destroyed it in 1936, plans were made to construct a fireproof steel and concrete bridge. The expensive construction of a concrete bridge was particularly supported by the late lawyer, Cecil Chamberlain.
“A crew of about 75 men from the Force Jones Construction Company used teams and scrapers to divert the river about one-half mile upstream in order to excavate for piers, which were sunk into the earth and then reinforced with concrete. This bridge, completed in 1939, is still in use today. Half of the cost of the $600,000 bridge was borne by the federal government. Texas and Oklahoma each paid $150,000.
“The river has not conquered the bridge as it yearly did the wooden one. Only once since the bridge’s construction has the river risen over bridge level.”
Roads were unpaved in the 1920s. Pictured is the Oklahoma approach to the 1924 bridge.

The Red River is pictured at flood stage. Spring flooding routinely damaged the wooden bridge.

The concrete Red River Bridge was built in the late 1930s.
Today, Oklahoma approach, the 1939 bridge (right) is blocked from use. The modern bridge (left) runs alongside.

The 1939 Red River Bridge stands, closed to traffic, immediately west of the "new" Red River Bridge.
The Red River's flow, at right, is pictured below Hwy 183 during drought conditions, July 23, 2011.

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Joe Wynn is a member of the Tillman County Historical Society’s Board of Directors. He can be contacted by email at tillmanokhistory@gmail.com.

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