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Trinity Bluff in Dallas

Posted by M C Toyer 
Trinity Bluff in Dallas
March 07, 2012 07:41AM
This ca 1880 photo below, facing east, was taken a little bit south of where present Stemmons Freeway crosses over Commerce Street west of the Triple Underpass.

The bridge shown is Sarah Cockrell's 1871 iron bowstring arch toll bridge. The concrete pilings were also used on the 1890 double span iron truss bridge which replaced it.

The courthouse is center background. The railroads ran just at the edge of the bluff at the east (right in the photo) end of the bridge. The smokestacks are from various mills built along the bluff.

This photo below, facing west, would have been taken after 1871 when the toll bridge was completed and before the mid 1880s when the MKT Railroad was laid. The Cockrell house is far left and the river can be seen to the right of it above the corral. The building on the right side of Commerce just before the bridge is the toll keepers house. At the west (right in the photo) end of the bridge you can see how the approach there drops sharply to the bottom land which is heavily wooded.

The railing in the foreground is on the ourthouse roof from which the photo was taken.

This photo below, also facing west, taken from the south side of Commerce St on the bluff shows in the center one of the rock filled cedar crib pilings from Alex Cockrell's 1855 covered wooden bridge. At far left you can see the steep western approach and West Commerce Street through the bottoms.

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 03/07/2012 10:02PM by M C Toyer.
Re: Trinity Bluff in Dallas
March 07, 2012 11:58AM
M C: Very interesting. Thanks much!
Re: Trinity Bluff in Dallas
March 07, 2012 12:58PM
Bob -


I should have prefaced that Bryan's orignal site and the higher ground was probably where present Elm Street overlooked the River.

Commerce Street was the site of a natural ford long used by Native Americans, Buffalo migrations and other game. The banks there were probably worn down from that and perhaps cut down even more to access Bryan's ferry and Alex Cockrell's 1855 bridge.

Re: Trinity Bluff in Dallas
March 07, 2012 11:46PM
The river doesn't look very big. Folks back then built right down on the banks almost. However, there seems to be a significant elevation on the Dallas side. Nice photos. Jim

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 03/07/2012 11:51PM by jgoodman.
Re: Trinity Bluff in Dallas
March 08, 2012 01:10AM
Remember that little river came all the way up to the Courthouse in 1908 and flooded all of that end of town. It covered all of the river bottom from the courthouse over to Oak Cliff.

Re: Trinity Bluff in Dallas
March 08, 2012 04:53AM
How many times did it flood? How many levee attempts? When did they re-channel? Jim
Re: Trinity Bluff in Dallas
March 08, 2012 09:02AM
Fascinating. Thanks, M C!
Re: Trinity Bluff in Dallas
March 08, 2012 11:00AM
Here's a northwest view of the 1935 flood:

It was not as extensive as the big one of 1908. You can see the levees were full bank to bank and the Oak Cliff side was protected but on the Dallas side water covered the area from Industrial Blvd back to the orignal bluff. This was due in part to insufficient pump capacity to move the storm water runoff from Mill Creek and Dallas Branch which accumulated east of the levee. Note at right center you can see the turning Y for Union Station was above the flood waters so all the other tracks and most of downtown Dallas was spared.

Moving from bottom to top you see the Cadiz Viaduct, then the Street Car tracks, Houston Street Viaduct, Commerce Street Viaduct, T and P RR and Continental Street Viaduct which was then still known as the Lamar - McKinney Viaduct.

In the top right corner you can the original Trinity channel.

If you look real close where the Houston Street Viaduct crosses the east levee the ca 1890 Grand / Zang Blvd bridge which was left in place after the levees were built. Also just below note the section of the Houston Street Viaduct was built with a flat span to accommodate river navigation while all the other were arched and a similar flat span on the Street Car trestle. These mark the location of the original Trinity River.
Re: Trinity Bluff in Dallas
March 08, 2012 03:26PM
Here's a couple of views of the 1908 flood:

Above is the western span and approach of the 1890 Commerce Street bridge viewed from the bluff. As seen in the third photo above the bridge deck was slighly elevated above the edge of the bluff therefore the flood water was higher than the bluff in some places.

This is taken from the bridge looking back along the bluff on the south side of Commerce Street. Note the spectators are standing on the railroad tracks.

In Bryan's original plat of the Town of Dallas the street nearest the river was Water Street, next was Broadway, then Houston. The railroad tracks ran along Water Street and the river was right below. As Ralph pointed out the courthouse was only three blocks from the river.


Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 03/08/2012 03:58PM by M C Toyer.
Re: Trinity Bluff in Dallas
March 08, 2012 04:25PM
Can you tell us what were the dimensions of the lots shown on the 1855 map?
Re: Trinity Bluff in Dallas
March 08, 2012 07:25PM
I believe each block in the original townsite was approximately 200 feet square so each of the 8 rectangular lots would measure 50 x 100 ft. The corner lots would command a premium with each having 150 feet of frontage.

The street width looks to be about 66 feet.

Re: Trinity Bluff in Dallas
March 09, 2012 05:55PM
Thanks for posting those photos. I'm curious where Commerce went once it got across to the west bank. Did it follow modern day Ft. Worth Ave. to Fort Worth or did it follow W. Commerce that runs into Hampton just north of the Turnpike, I-30.

Since it was a toll bridge, it makes me wonder what was on the west bank that was worth paying a toll to get to at that time.



Re: Trinity Bluff in Dallas
March 09, 2012 06:04PM
Mac: A toll bridge is a two-way street. Maybe the principal dynamic was in the form of folks trying to go east on Commerce toward Dallas; once they'd finished with their business, or whatever, they'd need to cross that bridge again to get back where they came from.
Re: Trinity Bluff in Dallas
March 09, 2012 09:57PM
Mac -

The Commerce Street crossing of the Trinity provided access to all points south and west of Dallas from the settled areas and primary points of entry in east and northeast Texas. Before Anglos arrived it had long been a natural ford where several trails converged.

With the extension of the Peters Colony grant in 1841, which encompassed most of Dallas and Tarrant counties, the area west of the Trinity was soon settled.

The Lancaster Road, which branched off to the south, provided access to William Hord's home near the future zoo site, Overton's Mill and the Miller Plantation at Honey Springs, and the settlements at Lisbon, Lancaster and other towns enroute to Houston.

The "Ridge Route," which is now essentially the Fort Worth Cutoff, led to Fort Worth via the LaReunion Colony and Alex Cockrell's ranch near Mountain Creek. A southerly branch led to Cedar Hill, Waco and Austin.

By the mid 1850s these were also stage routes.

Going west led to Eagle Ford where Cockrell's Horton in-laws also operated a mill, the fertile farms in the West and Elm Fork Delta, then northwest to the Grapevine Prairie and beyond to the buffalo ranges on the West Texas plains which produced huge volumes of hides for the burgeoning Dallas leather, farm goods and clothing markets.

All business minded immigrants and entrepreneurs sought likely sites for commerce to stake their claims. With a franchise for a ferry or bridge along an established road or trail most travelers would be funneled to river crossing sites where millers, taverns, trading houses, lawyers and land speculators would flourish.

Bryan's experience prior to founding Dallas included most all these enterprises with his association with Thompson and Drennen, founders of Van Buren on the Arkansas River, and Holland Coffee, who ran a ferry and trading house on the Red River.

Bryan's future father-in-law John Beeman had large land holdings in Illinois including mills, a ferry, woodlot and farms. In Dallas he claimed a tract of land on the west side of the Trinity directly across from Bryan and tracts straddling White Rock Creek along a major trail to east Texas from the Commerce Street crossing.

Alex Cockrell had prospered as a teamster carrying goods to Dallas from Jefferson and other ports of entry from the east and from Galveston Bay to the south and, though illiterate, fully understood transportation and commerce.

The advantage to the various governmental bodies for private operation of the ferries and bridges was there was no capital cost or operating and maintenance expenses. The Republic and State of Texas and the Town and County of Dallas had little money in their coffers.

Patrons of the toll crossing were not obligated to use them; there were still free sites but those could lead to weather delays, longer travel times, loss of livestock and wagons and other dangers. They had to justify the cost versus the inconvenience.

When Sarah Cockrell replaced the old ferry and long lost wooden bridge in 1871 she established a corporation with several Dallas businessmen as shareholders and they all prospered from the enterprise both from the toll revenue and from the enhanced commerce a modern bridge produced. The railroads were lured to Dallas by this same entrepreneurial spirit.

By the time the citizens grew weary of paying tolls Dallas was prosperous enough to purchase Sarah's bridge and make it free to all but then had to bear the burden of operation, maintenance and replacement every few decades which was passed on to the taxpayers.

Bob - Your comment reminded me of something I recently read about Greenville. Early in the 20th century the town improved the roads connecting to other towns in the region. They were graded for two lanes but only the inbound was paved. The town leaders figured the paved roads would encourage others to come to Greenville for trade but weren't as concerned how they got back home.


Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 03/10/2012 09:10AM by M C Toyer.
Re: Trinity Bluff in Dallas
March 10, 2012 02:20PM
Way cool!

Greg Jaynes
Re: Trinity Bluff in Dallas
March 10, 2012 02:30PM
Look ! You even woke Greg Jaynes up with your postings

Re: Trinity Bluff in Dallas
March 10, 2012 02:45PM
M C T -

I checked abebooks.com before starting this post, so I don't believe it has already happened and I have failed to learn of it.

I am therefore waiting for you to publish a book about EARLY TEXAS, DALLAS, DALLAS COUNTY, or TEXAS (EVERYTHING). I believe the scope of the book will be limited by your choice, but it could be any of the boundaries just named, and a lot more

Please keep it up!
Re: Trinity Bluff in Dallas
March 11, 2012 12:07AM
Mac Wrote:
> Since it was a toll bridge, it makes me wonder
> what was on the west bank that was worth paying a
> toll to get to at that time.

This advertisement, placed in The Dallas Herald on 24 February 1855 by Alexander Cockrell two months after it opened, is one of the few descriptions of the original toll bridge at Commerce Street on the Trinity River in Dallas. The ad touts the strategic importance of the crossing site followed by a sales pitch citing the convenience and affordability of using the toll bridge.

Greg Jaynes retrieved this copy and posted it on his own website 12 or more years ago. His interest, research and exploration of Dallas history predates mine.

No known photographs of Cockrell's wooden toll bridge exist but this example below is probably very similar. Greg and I determined the 620 length cited in the ad likely included two spans comparable in length to the 1871 iron bridge plus approach ramps on the eastern and western ends.

Cockrell was also required by his charter to construct and maintain a plank road causeway across the Trinity bottoms the length of which was not specified but likely several times that of the bridge itself. With the exception of Cockrell's steam powered sawmill and ox or mule teams to transport the materials the bridge and causeway were all built by manual labor.

Quite an accomplishment!

Edited 4 time(s). Last edit at 03/11/2012 07:34AM by M C Toyer.
Re: Trinity Bluff in Dallas
March 12, 2012 04:49AM
Hey Greg! ....Great to see that you still check in now and then! ......I lost my way to this site for many months, but am glad to be back.

It's great that you posted, because I was just about to post on this thread to MC and ask if he'd been in contact with you recently.

You are one of the "historians" regarding Dallas, along with Barnes, MC T., Strouse and many others whose names I can't recall at this moment, but who I applaud for the research and sharing of data.

Hope you're doing well after the 'cane ruined your boat years ago. ..............Fred
Re: Trinity Bluff in Dallas
March 12, 2012 04:53AM
MC, you always provide great postings and back them up with factual data. You are appreciated! ...........Fred
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