Four months before the first railroad reached Dallas in July, 1872, Dallas’s iron toll bridge over the Trinity at the foot of Commerce Street was opened to traffic. This $55,000 traffic facility, more than a year under construction, was acclaimed as the best bridge to be found anywhere in the state of Texas—”not excepting the famous Wire Suspension Bridge at Waco.” The enterprise had been chartered in July, 1870, by the Texas legislature as “the Dallas Wire Suspension Bridge Co.,” evidence of the intention of Dallas folks not to be outclassed forever by Waco. But by the time a contract was signed in April, 1871, with a bridge fabricating concern in Iola, Kansas, it had been decided to build it instead with iron beams, providing two spans of 160 and 140 feet each. With its approaches, the bridge had an overall length of 784 feet, with a plank floor 56 feet above the low water marked in the river channel.

Most business leaders of Dallas at the time had a part in the creation of the great improvement, either as incorporators, or directors, or both. Among them were James K. P. Record, banker T. C. Jordan, Capt. W. H. Gaston, A. C. Camp, Capt. W. H. Prather, George W. Swink, who served as secretary, and Dr. J. W. Crowdus, the bridge company’s president. But the biggest stockholder and leading spirit in the enterprise was a woman, the notable Sarah Horton Cockrell, widow of Alexander Cockrell, and Dallas’s first capitalist of either sex. Mrs. Cockrell was required legally to be shown as one of the incorporators, but although she was the largest stockholder, the customs of the period in Texas did not encourage her to accept a place as either an officer or a director,

1872 Toll Bridge with Courthouse in BackgroundThe iron bridge was actually the second fixed crossing of the river at Dallas. As founder of the town, John Neely Bryan had established a ferry at the foot of Commerce in 1841 which was sold to Alexander Cockrell, along with other town interests of Bryan, in 1853. Cockrell built a wooden bridge, but its west section collapsed in 1858, requiring a return to ferry service at the crossing. A Negro slave, Berry Derrit, served as ferryman for the Cockrells, a post which he refused to be “emancipated from” when the outcome of the Civil War freed all slaves in Texas. He remained in charge of the ferry until it was finally discontinued in 1872.

The tollhouse for the 1872 iron bridge stood on the Commerce Street end where the tollman, Samuel Galleher, collected revenues in accord with a schedule of charges. Wheeled vehicles were charged twenty cents to cross the structure. An animal and a rider had to pay ten cents. Foot passengers were charged five cents each, as were also “loose animals” such as cattle, sheep, hogs, and goats. These rates were charged all bridge users except those who were residents of Dallas County. They enjoyed a 50 percent reduction in each category of charges.

Success of the new bridge added greatly to traffic congestion in Dallas. E. K. Martyn, who reached Dallas a year and a half after the bridge opening, said that streets were so crowded that the town marshal and county constables had a busy time keeping things moving.

J. B. Banks, later of Sulphur Springs, recalled that he hauled a wagon load of buffalo hides to Dallas from Fort Griffin in 1875, one of forty such wagons in a train, each hauled by six to eight mules. Dallas abounded with wagon yards at the time, the best known being the California at Ross and Lamar. From 1872 until 1876, when the Texas & Pacific was extended westward to Fort Worth, Dallas was the railhead for a large territory fanning southwestward and westward to northwestward. Wagon haulage continued to be the only way to get crops to the railroad or goods brought in by rail from distant points.

Two of Dallas’s four stage lines survived the coming of the railroads, those to Waxahachie and to Fort Worth, both of which used the new bridge. The Fort Worth line actually carried the mail to and from El Paso. The post office was on the courthouse square and old timers vividly recalled the arrival of the stagecoaches, particularly the one from El Paso. Drawn by four prancing horses, and with the driver blowing his trumpet, the El Passo stage invariably drew a large crowd on the square to watch its arrival. “That was the finest sound boyhood ears ever heard,” said G. E. (Ed) Cornwall.
It was not long, though, before the toll feature of Dallas’s new iron bridge came under fire, mainly from its neighbors in adjoining counties. The differential in charges in favor of Dallas residents was the most resented feature. Within two years the people of Dallas decided to buy the privately owned toll bridge and open it as a free bridge to all. This was done in 1874 when the Dallas Bridge Company sold the structure and all of its assets, including the bridge and ferry franchise, for a total of $80,000. It remained in service until it was superseded in 1915 by a new Commerce Street viaduct. In the ninety-five years since the iron bridge was built, seventeen major bridges and viaducts have been built over the Main, East, Elm, and West Forks of the Trinity at Dallas. But none ever aroused greater pride and enthusiasm than the first iron structure of 1872.

Courtesy Dallas Yesterday by Sam Acheson.