Historians eye 1903 railroad swing bridge
The 1903 swing span railroad bridge over the Sabine River near Echo, which connects rail lines between Houston to New Orleans, is the subject of a plan by Union Pacific Railroad to permanently de-activate the swing portion.
The structure also extends into Calcasieu Parish. The proposal would not close the rail line, require additional right-of-way easements or relocate residences or businesses.
According to the Coast Guard, no requests have been made by boaters (or anyone else) to open the bridge since Hurricane Rita three years ago.
The Guard has sent letters to Echo residents or property owners asking for supporting or opposing feedback. Chief David Frank said input may be sent to the Office of the Commander (dpb) Eighth Coast Guard District, 500 Poydras St., Room 1313, New Orleans, LA 70130-3310. Deadline is Aug. 13. Discussion should include night traffic at the site and other navigational safety issues.
“No work will be performed below the bridge pier tops, and the outward appearance of the bridge will not be altered,” Frank said.
Kitty Henderson of the Historic Bridge Foundation in Austin said that if the project goes ahead and does not affect the historical significance of the bridge, “ … this is a good thing.”
Rachel Leibowitz of the Texas Historical Commission said the bridge is eligible for a listing in the National Register of Historic Places, particularly since there are so few swing bridges left.
“We are concerned that the proposed undertaking may have an adverse effect on this historic bridge, particularly in light of the loss or significant alteration of other historic railroad bridges in this region and the relative rarity of movable span bridges,” she said.
The THC would support the proposal only if the would-be changes were found to have “no adverse effect” on the structure, she said.
The commisson’s official designation for the structure is “The Sabine River (Memorial) Bridge at Echo.”
A study written by Leibowitz and Elizabeth Butman turned up little historical data on the bridge.
“We are hoping that a statewide historical context study or survey for railroad bridges will be completed in the near future, as many historic railroad bridges are threatened throughout Texas,” Leibowitz said. “In our review of this bridge, we have requested more information on its history, its design and construction, but have received nothing.”
Echo was founded in 1880, according to the Texas State Historical Association’s “Handbook of Texas Online.” The Louisiana Western Extension Railroad Co. completed a section there and established a quarantine station. The site was named Echo, supposedly, because the sounds of the railway reverberated in the nearby river. The quarantine station no longer exists.
A few more agencies such as the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and Coastal Zone Management Program also need to review the bridge proposal, Frank said.