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West Sixth Street Bridge (1887)

Photos 

Photo taken by Historic American Engineering Record

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BH Photo #118879

Street View 

Documents 

WEST SIXTH STREET BRIDGE (West Pecan Street Bridge) HAER No. TX-51

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Posted by Jesse Sharkoman Berube

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Description 

This bridge, one of the state's oldest masonry arches, is located at the site of the first bridge in Austin and continues to serve one of the city's principal east-west arteries. The three-arch stone bridge constructed in 1887 across Shoal Creek at West Sixth Street in Austin represents not only a valuable element in the transportation network of a modern American city, but also survives as an extant example of late nineteenth-century adaptation of local materials and skilled labor to the geographical imperatives of the natural environment. A hand-built structure erected in an age when rapid industrialization was offering machine-built solutions to the challenges posed by nature, this bridge replaced an earlier iron bowstring arch in a reversal of the usual pattern of short-span bridge replacement.

Typically, stone bridges constructed in the eighteenth or early nineteenth centuries were rapidly being replaced in the late nineteenth century by metal bridges. But in Austin, a community with an abundance of limestone for building material and a wealth of skilled masons, there were several instances in the late nineteenth century of iron bridges succeeded by stone arches as crossings of principal inner-city creeks. In this particular case, stone bridges provided a very practical means of spanning those creeks which have been determining geographical factors from the earliest days of the city's history.

For reasons which are unclear, the small bowstring arch that provided access to Raymond Plateau was in need of replacement by 1887. At the city council meeting of January 3, the city engineer was instructed to estimate "the cost of moving the iron bridge at present located on West Pecan Street over Shoal Creek to Cedar Street... and replacing same with a substantial stone or iron bridge, the full width of the street." At the next meeting of the council on January 17, the city engineer estimated: The cost of constructing an iron bridge on West Sixth Street over Shoal Creek, sixty feet wide with two ten feet sidewalks and abutments and wing walls complete, which fixes the cost at $5,204; and an estimate of the cost of removing the iron bridge, now on West Sixth Street, over Shoal Creek, to West Cedar Street, over Shoal Creek with abutments, wing walls, new woodwork and fresh painting and putting bridge up $1,543.10 No mention was made by the city engineer at this time concerning the erection of a stone bridge, and on March 7,1887, a proposal was presented to the council for the appropriation of $6,750 for building "an iron bridge over Shoal Creek on West Pecan Street, and removing an iron bridge on said street and replacing the same over Shoal Creek on West Cedar [Fourth] Street."11 This was referred to a special committee, composed of four representatives from the west side of town (west of Congress Avenue) and four from the east side of town.

This committee apparently reconsidered the type of bridge to be erected, because on March 21,1887, the council passed an ordinance providing that 'the following sums of money, or so much thereof as may be necessary," be appropriated "for the erection of a double-arched stone bridge over Shoal Creek on West Pecan Street" $6,126.20; and "for removing the iron bridge now over Shoal Creek on West Pecan Street and placing same over Waller Creek on East Water [First] Street" $1,593.12 As built, however, the new stone bridge was a triple arch instead of a double arch. It would seem, therefore, that the construction plans were changed sometime between when the specifications were drawn up and when the bridge was completed. There is no record of work done on this bridge other than two cryptic observations in The Austin Daily Statesman, which noted on Saturday, May 7,1887, that "work has commenced on the West Pecan Street Bridge," and further noted on Thursday, July 28,1887, that "the bridge over Shoal Creek, on West Pecan Street, will be completed in a few days and will be a credit to the city. A transfer of passengers on the street car is now necessary, and will soon be dispensed with."

Little more than half a year after its completion, on February 6,1888, city engineer Sam Matthews reported to the council that the new stone bridge over Shoal Creek at West Pecan [Sixth] Street was in need of repair, and he later estimated that repairs would cost $2,536.14 But the street committee said there was no money to fix bridges.15 Shortly thereafter, Mayor Joseph Nalle, who had succeeded J. W. Robertson on December 15,1887, spoke to the council concerning the debt left by the Robertson administration, and of the necessity of repairing and rebuilding "the stone bridges built, at a heavy cost, by the administration last preceding us. The city engineer's report shows that it will cost $4,635 to repair the four bridges he has examined (E. 16th, E. 11th, E. 6th, and W. 6th) " Nalle was so disturbed by the state of the city finances, he suggested that the State legislature make it a felony, through an amendment to the city charter, for the mayor and board of aldermen (council) to create debts in excess of the amount of revenues.

The bridge as it currently exists is 80'-0M wide, 90'-0" long, and has three arches of about 24'-0" span at the base. As noted, the bridge is unusually wide for a late nineteenth-century wagon bridge, but that is due to the width of the streets as originally determined by Edwin Waller's 1839 city plan. Fortunately, that width allowed for the passage of wagons going in either direction, and also facilitated the installation of tracks for mule-drawn streetcars, which were first used in Austin in 1875.18 The rusticated limestone blocks from which the bridge is constructed were probably quarried in the local area, but no records exist to indicate exactly where the building materials came from. Piers are probably founded on bedrock, which is just inches below the surface of the ground in this part of Austin. The bridge is in good condition, and carries a great deal of daily traffic as part of a major east-west arterial feeding traffic into and out of the central business district. Flood control measures instituted by the City of Austin following the disastrous Memorial Day flood of 1981 should provide a measure of security in terms of the structural integrity of the bridge, thus allowing this unusually well preserved example of late nineteenth-century stone construction to survive into the twenty-first century with only periodic maintenance.

WEST SIXTH STREET BRIDGE (West Pecan Street Bridge) HAER No. TX-51

Facts 

Overview
Stone arch bridge over Shoal Creek on Loop 343 (W. 6th Street) in Austin
Location
Austin, Travis County, Texas
Status
Open to traffic
History
Built 1887
Design
Stone arch
Dimensions
Length of largest span: 29.9 ft.
Total length: 89.9 ft.
Deck width: 60.4 ft.
Recognition
Posted to the National Register of Historic Places on August 18, 2014
Approximate latitude, longitude
+30.27056, -97.75111   (decimal degrees)
30°16'14" N, 97°45'04" W   (degrees°minutes'seconds")
Approximate UTM coordinates
14/620129/3349425 (zone/easting/northing)
Quadrangle map:
Austin West
Average daily traffic (as of 2014)
21,730
Inventory numbers
TXNBI 142270B00018085 (Texas bridge number on the National Bridge Inventory)
NRHP 14000499 (National Register of Historic Places reference number)
BH 33400 (Bridgehunter.com ID)
Inspection report (as of March 2018)
Overall condition: Fair
Superstructure condition rating: Very Good (8 out of 9)
Substructure condition rating: Fair (5 out of 9)
Deck condition rating: Very Good (8 out of 9)
Sufficiency rating: 78.1 (out of 100)
View more at BridgeReports.com

Categories 

19th Century (9,225)
Arch (12,775)
Austin, Texas (32)
Built 1887 (250)
Built during 1880s (2,326)
Deck arch (11,999)
HAER documented (1,136)
Have street view (30,043)
NR-listed (3,025)
Open (41,255)
Owned by city (6,193)
Span length 25-50 feet (16,384)
Stone arch (3,327)
Texas (3,081)
Total length 75-100 feet (6,960)
Travis County, Texas (57)

Update Log 

  • July 4, 2022: Document added by Jesse Sharkoman Berube
  • March 4, 2020: New photo from Geoff Hubbs
  • February 4, 2017: New Street View added by Dana and Kay Klein

Related Bridges 

Sources 

  • HAER TX-51 - West Sixth Street Bridge, Spanning Shoal Creek at West Sixth Street, Austin, Travis County, TX
  • James Baughn - webmaster [at] bridgehunter [dot] com
  • Dana and Kay Klein
  • Geoff Hubbs
  • Jesse Sharkoman Berube - jesseberube5 [at] gmail [dot] com