Llano River Bridge
Built 1936 Photo Courtesy of Jerry Crabtree
A river runs through it …… no not the movie - the county of Llano and the town of Llano. If you look at a map you will see that the Llano River runs on a west to east course through the county of Llano, and in the middle sits the town of Llano.
If you lived in llano between the 1850’s and 1892 and needed to get from one side of town to the other, all you had was an old log dam with a narrow (perhaps two-feet wide) foot bridge on which to cross the llano River. This was fine as long as you were walking …. And didn’t slip and fall in! These were however the days when most people traveled by horseback, wagons, and buggies - which meant that a mere wooden walkway across the river was just not practical, or wise. A traveler could of course use one of the two “main crossings” - the upper crossing or the lower crossing. One you had to go a half mile away from town to cross it, the other was closer but still not desirable. The Llano River has always been known for its rough and tortuous granite rock-laden riverbed as well as its wide and deep sandbars. It was also known for the deep pools of water in the middle of some of these sandbars. So either way you tried to cross it, it was a major inconvenience, not to mention dangerous.
As time went on and the town grew with more people and businesses, so grew the inconvenience of trying to cross the river. The year was 1892 and the time had come for a substantial bridge to be built across the Llano River.
In February 1892 the commissioner’s court entered an order for bids to be taken on the construction of an iron bridge. In March 1892 bids were opened and construction of the bridge was awarded to the Wisconsin Bridge & Iron Company for the sum of $32,500.
The bridge would be 800 ft. long, with a roadway of 18 ft. in width, and two walkways / footpaths that were each five ft. wide. The floor of the bridge would be approximately six ft. higher than the water level of the river. The piers / pillars that supported this structure were to be made of granite. By December of 1892 the bridge was considered complete and satisfactory. Surely such an impressive and reinforced structure would last almost forever …… then again, maybe not.
Perhaps the engineer surveyed the territory in a “dry” year. Perhaps the structural knowledge of the then current citizens of Llano was just not based on sound facts. But whatever had been done - was done, and in June 1935 the bridge would be tested to its limits.
The month of June 1935 was a wet one. There had been slow incessant rains falling in Llano County and other western regions of the Central Texas Hill Country. A region with creeks and water sheds that fed into the Llano River. The rains eventually turned into a deluge. On June 14, 1935 people gathered on both the north and south sides of the bridge to watch on in horror as massive waves of turbulent water lashed at the bridge floor. As the waters continued to rise, all the bystanders could do was to watch on in disbelief as all four sections of the huge bridge washed away downstream. The force of the turbulent waters was such that it even destroyed two of the three huge granite piers that supported the bridge. The third support pillar was all that survived of the original 1892 Llano River Bridge construction. It survived only because it had been built into a portion of the actual river bed that was solid granite.
When it was all over, the river would have risen approximately 42 feet, and the town of Llano was once again divided and inconvenienced by the river – and what inconvenience it was! The railroad was on the north side of town, the post office was on the south side. When the mail delivery came the next day it was rerouted to Llano via San Antonio, then to Fredericksburg, and finally back to Llano. The south side had no lights; the north side had no water. All gasoline was sold out. Llano residents were separated from family members and friends. It is told that the local Boy Scouts sent messages back and forth using signals they had learned in camp. For days the only means of crossing was by boats; until a temporary crossing could be established for usage until a new bridge could be built.
The US Emergency Relief Project and the Dallas based company of Austin Bridge Company would have the chore of building the new Llano River Bridge – the still standing current bridge seen in photo above; the cost, $155,724. As soon as the river drained down to its normal level; construction by the Texas Highway Dept. began on the same site as the original 1892 bridge. It, like its predecessor, has four spans, but they are steel this time, not iron. And the center is approximately 12 ft. higher than the maximum height of the bridge that washed away in June of 1935. The bridge was named the Roy B. Inks Bridge in memory of the former Llano mayor and director of the Lower Colorado River Authority; it is however still most commonly called the Llano River Bridge.
…. End ….
Personal knowledge of Llano history & stories told to me by family members about Llano events.
Llano: Gem of the Hill Country, A History of Llano County, Texas
by Wilburn Oatman - Pioneer Book Publishers, Inc. Copyright 1970