Earlier this year the Regency Bridge north of San Saba became the last suspension bridge in Texas that cars can drive across
Earlier this year the Regency Bridge north of San Saba became the last suspension bridge in Texas that automobiles can drive across. That might not sound like a big deal if you have never felt the gentle bouncing and swaying of a bridge hanging by steel cables under your steel-belted radials. The feeling is like a combination of a bucking bronco and a ship bobbing around in rough seas. Plus, the view of the river valley from up there is spectacular.
For a select group of tourists, hunting down the last suspension bridges around the country is a method of vacation planning. "We've had people from nearly every state and from Japan, Australia, and Europe," says Alton Watson at the White Wolf Trading Post. He sells T-shirts, sodas, and souvenirs on the Mills County end of the bridge. He also maintains a guest book for visitors to sign.
The 340-foot bridge linking Mills with San Saba County on the south bank became the last suspension bridge in Texas open to vehicular traffic earlier this year when the 109-year-old Beveridge Suspension Bridge was bypassed by a new county road. The smaller and older bridge still stands a few miles south of the Regency Bridge on the northern outskirts of San Saba.
The golden era of the construction of suspension bridges began in the late 1800s when technology improved the manufacturing of wire. Wire made the cables stronger, and the steel rope could support heavier loads and stretch over longer spans than girders. The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and the Brooklyn Bridge in New York are probably the most famous suspension bridges in America.
The first suspension bridge in Texas was the Waco Suspension Bridge. Opened in 1870 as a toll bridge over the Brazos River, the Waco bridge is 13 years older than its Brooklyn cousin. It is now a pedestrian-only bridge.
According to the Texas Department of Transportation, the state has eight suspension bridges, but only the Regency Bridge still carries vehicles. Built in 1939, the bridge was also the last of its kind to be constructed in Texas. It has survived mainly because of its remote location on a scenic county road.
Existence hasn't been easy for the bridge that gets its name from the abandoned farming community of Regency on the Mills County side of the river. The first bridge at the location was built in 1903 but collapsed under the weight of a herd of cattle. The second attempt was washed away by a flood in 1936.
The current Regency Bridge received a tune-up and rededication in 1999, but was closed for a time in 2004 when kids shooting fireworks accidently started a fire on the wood decking. To get to the bridge, take TX 16 north from San Saba and then go west for 17 miles on FM 500.
Even though the bridge has appeared in commercials, movies, and the opening scenes of Bob Phillip's popular Texas-travel television program, Texas Country Reporter, San Saba is more famous for its pecans. It was here that the modern industry of growing "improved varieties" of pecans was born.
Although the county claims the title of "pecan capital of world," it is fourth in pecan production in the state. El Paso County grows the most in Texas. To buy pecans and pecan products fresh from the processor, stop by one of the eight retail shops along Wallace Street (U.S. 190 West).
One of the most scenic spots in San Saba is Mill Pond Park on the eastern side of town off of U.S. 190. The location of an early grain mill, the site is maintained by the local garden club with a mill wheel still spinning in the spring-fed creek.
For a complete list of places to see in San Saba County call the chamber of commerce at 325/372-5144 or visit their Web site at www.sansabatexas.com. For information on camping on the Colorado River at Swing Bridge Camp, call 325/938-5670. The campground has two small cabins, full RV hookups, canoe rental, and picnic tables in a pecan grove on the Mills County end of the Regency Bridge.
752nd in a series. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of Day Trips 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.