SABINE RIVER BRIDGE HAER No. TX-47
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Posted by Jesse Sharkoman Berube
The bridge was officially opened to traffic on December 17, 1936. It served as part of US 84 until being demolished in 2016 to accommodate construction of the westbound span of its replacement, which was completed in May 2017.
On December 17,1936, the new Sabine River Bridge at the Logansport crossing — the third non-railroad structure over this part of the water in thirty-nine years — welcomed its first vehicles. This bridge was one of six built between 1927 and 1937, officially closing the book on the era of Sabine River ferry crossings.
The only known variable-depth cantilever steel girder bridge in Texas, featuring a three-span central unit with a suspended section connected to cantilever arms by a pin-and-hanger assembly. On either side of the roadway, visible to passing motorists, are unique railings that varied from state highway department standards. The bridge's appearance brought grandeur and monumentality to the state crossing, while its overall styling and ingenious technology was in keeping with highway modernization and expanding Texas infrastructure in the 1920s and 1930s.
As traffic grew on Texas SH-35 and Louisiana SH-9, however, it became imperative to replace the already shaky bridge connecting those two highways over the Sabine River. During a three-day span in June of 1931, for example, 1,212 vehicles crossed the bridge ~an average of404 per day. This need was officially recognized at least by 1932, when Texas state highway officials, including bridge engineer George G. Wickline, noted the flimsiness of the bridge. A new bridge project was also backed by Logansport Mayor F. K. Johnson, who considered a new, up-to-date bridge necessary to accompany the new, up-to-date highway.
On August 2,1934, at approximately 3:45 p.m., a fire began on the bridge and burned for four hours. The fire allowed both highway departments to seek federal national recovery funds for the new bridge. By September 1934, the highway departments of the two states agreed to share costs for a new bridge at the crossing, with the Texas Highway Department handling the surveys, plans, and engineering supervision, pending approval from the Louisiana State Highway Engineer. John F. Buckner of Cleburne, Texas offered the lowest bid at $132,726.10, and received the contract. The total cost of the bridge was set at $145,998.71. This agreement was reached because Louisiana had been in charge of the most recent bridge project over the Sabine River at Bon Wier. Some complications arose regarding the exact placement of the new bridge, but it was finally agreed that the bridge should be placed just north of the burned structure, extending from the unincorporated area of Haslam and feeding into Second Avenue in Logansport. The Texas Highway Department gave Buckner's company 170 working days to complete the project, and it appointed D. V. Purington as the resident engineer. As a state highway bridge, the project was put under the supervision of State Highway Engineer Gibb Gilchrist and State Bridge Engineer George G. Wickline. Gilchrist had the authority of final approval for the bridge specifications, plans, and construction.
Wickline designed an 873'-3" eighteen-span bridge made of concrete and steel, with fifteen approach spans and three main spans. The three principal spans, 273'-2" in length, feature a 125'-0" central span with a 63'-10" suspended section flanked by two 30'-7" cantilever arms.20 The other two anchor spans are riveted steel girders, each 74'-2" in length. The approach spans, each 40'-0" in length, are constructed of-beams. Eleven of the approach spans are on the Texas side, and the other four are in Louisiana. The bridge begins at grade where Second Avenue (now Main Street) meets Second Street in Logansport, descending a one percent grade into Texas. The suspended span hovers directly over the official Texas-Louisiana border in the middle of the river. The three-span central section is supported by reinforced concrete piers, with the two westernmost piers founded on untreated timber piling and the other two piers atop rock or shale. The I-beam approaches on the Texas side lie atop five-column precast concrete pile bents, and the Louisiana approach spans are supported by two-column precast concrete bents founded on spread footings.
Most noticeable to motorists and pedestrians are the decorative structural-grade steel railings, which feature a series of circles each separated by hanging pickets, just below a pipe rail. At various points, the circle-and-picket rhythm is interrupted by thin, tombstone-shaped railing posts separating the continuous line of circles and pickets as the railing marches along the bridge. The plans called for a "special" railing, and this design varied from the standard specifications for railing types established by the Texas Highway Department in 1918 and updated in 1932. Underneath two of the circles is a plaque marking the year of the bridge's completion and those people instrumental to its construction. Between the railings are 4'-0"-wide sidewalks and a 24'-0" concrete roadway, for a total deck width of 32'-0". Because there was development on both sides of the river in the immediate vicinity of the bridge site, it was determined that there would be sufficient foot traffic to necessitate sidewalks. Even with the railings and some of the detail work, the bridge's overall appearance, as built, is one of efficiency. Very little decoration adorns the bridge aside from the railings, and the distinctive cantilever and suspended span, while interesting, was less an aesthetic move than a technological and necessary one. The bridge was completed eight years after the completion of State Route 35 and around the time the stretch of this highway from Logansport to Timpson, and the stretch of Louisiana State Route 9 from Mansfield to Logansport, was renamed U.S. Route 84.
SABINE RIVER BRIDGE HAER No. TX-47