Cow Bayou Swing Bridge named to Nat’l Register
Bridge City was named for its bridges. Now, the Cow Bayou Swing Bridge has joined the Rainbow Bridge on the National Register of Historic Places. The rare swing bridge crossing Cow Bayou is one of only two center pivot swing bridges remaining in Texas.
The National Park Service made the selection May 10, which placed both of the town’s namesake bridges on the National Register. The Rainbow Bridge spanning the Neches River was listed in 1996.
The Cow Bayou Swing Bridge becomes just the seventh historic property in Orange County to be listed on the National Register. Six are in Orange; the W.H. Stark House, the Lutcher Memorial Church Building, the Navy Park Historic District, the Joseph and Annie Lucas House, the Sims House and the Woodmen of the World Lodge. The Rainbow Bridge is among the 41 Jefferson County listings.
Bridge City Mayor Kirk Roccaforte said he was pleased with the announcement.
“It think it’s great as far as Bridge City and tourism goes,” he said. “It will be something to come and see and for people to enjoy.”
Referring to Hurricane Ike, he added, “It’s good to promote good things, and we need good things after what we’ve been through.”
The National Register of Historic Places is a federal program administered by the Texas Historical Commission in coordination with the NPS. Listing in the National Register provides national recognition of historical significance and denotes that a property is worthy of preservation. The designation also enhances a regions opportunities in heritage tourism.
“Congratulations to the people of Bridge City on the recognition of a significant historic structure that remains a tangible link to the development and history of their community,” said Greg Smith, National Register coordinator. “We look forward to working with your community on other preservation initiatives in the future.”
Construction of the “Cow Bayou Bridge” began in 1939 the year following the completion of the Rainbow Bridge, then known as the Port Arthur-Orange Bridge. The swing bridge was the last major project along the “Hug-the-Coast-Highway” on the new Texas 87. Following its dedication in 1941 the small town of Prairie View became known as Bridge City.
The swing bridge over Cow Bayou brought about the consolidation of the Prairie View and Winfree school districts to become Bridge City ISD Operation of the bridge was a routine part of life in early Bridge City. Near it, community, commerce and industry flourished to become the City of Bridge City in 1970.
An engineering marvel of her day, the rare Cow Bayou Swing Bridge is a state historical treasure. In Bridge City, it is among last remaining landmarks to have survived time and the storm surge of Ike in 2008.
The swing bridge became eligible for listing to the National Register in 1990. It was the same year that Veteran’s Memorial Bridge crossing the Neches River was completed.
Plans for the demolition and removal of the swing bridge were revealed in 2007. They were averted, however, by a group of local citizens, the Bridge City Citizens For Historic Preservation. With the help of preservation specialist and state and federal legislation protecting properties eligible to the National Register, the swing bridge was spared.
The group immediately began the process of nominating the bridge to the National Register. Their efforts culminated in Sept. 2009 when the THC rubber-stamped the nomination and submitted it to the National Park Service in Washington, D.C.
“I think that it is important for a community to preserve it’s historic and cultural heritage,” said Mark Dunn speaking for the citizens’ group. “A town’s history, folklore, people and places are what make it unique from any other town anywhere else in America.
“We worked hard for this. It is a good thing for Bridge City.”
Currently, the Texas Department of Transportation is in the second phase of a rehabilitation project to restore the swing bridge to it’s original condition and improve it’s functionality. Improvements include the replacement of the operator’s house, bridge deck replacement, electrical upgrades, refurbishing/replacement of mechanical components, removal and/or replacement of the pedestrian walkway, painting the structure, and reinstalling the gates at the end of the bridge.
The National Register of Historic Places includes districts, sites, buildings, structures and objects that are significant in American history, architecture, archaeology, engineering, and culture. These resources contribute to an understanding of the historical and cultural foundations of the nation.
The Veterans’ Memorial Bridge will be eligible for listing on the National Register in 2040 on the 100th anniversary of the Cow Bayou Swing Bridge.