Constructed around year 1887, the 120 years old Hays Street Bridge is an important landmark in San Antonio, Texas. Connecting city’s east side with downtown, the 351 feet long bridge is widely considered as an engineering marvel and a piece of art. The bridge holds special significance for citizens of San Antonio, etched indelibly in their cultural heritage. Although the bridge is closed since 1982 for vehicular traffic, its symbolic value continues to exist and citizens of San Antonio are committed towards preserving the bridge as a mark of their collective historical identity.
History of the bridge Hays Street Bridge was built around 1887 by the company Morgan Steamship Lines as a narrow gauge railways bridge . Originally this bridge was built over Atchafalaya River, near Morgan city in Louisiana. However, as the line was upgraded, Texas & New Orleans Railroad Company and the Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio Railroad Company purchased the bridge and relocated it to San Antonio, Texas in 1910 . The city was in need of an overpass over new railway lines between New Braunfels Ave.
and Hays Street and for years Hays Street Bridge served as the only connecting overpass bridge between city’s east side and downtown . The relocation required upgrades in the bridge, as now it had to carry city’s heavy vehicular traffic. In response, engineers from the railroad companies widened existing spans from 16’ to 25’ . They further new support piers for the bridge, approaches and added a bridge deck to provide for both vehicular as well as pedestrian movements. The bridge has two spans.
The longer truss is 226 feet in length and is called Whipple/Phoenix Truss after the Pennsylvania Company that designed it. The shorter truss is 129 feet and is known as Pratt Truss. Today Hays Street Bridge is only one of the six bridges remaining in Texas that use Whipple-Phoenix Truss . After serving San Antonio for more than 70 years, the bridge was finally closed for vehicular traffic as its structural integrity and load carrying capacity came into question. Initially the city council of San Antonio decided to replace the bridge and replace it by a new structure.
Southern Pacific, the owners of bridge agreed to sell it to city council for $1, but further negotiations for new construction failed and the bridge continued in its place . Cultural significance For the citizen of San Antonio, Hays Street Bridge is not just a metallic structure connecting two parts of the city. For them, this structure acts as a bridge between their present and past. As one of the oldest standing structure in San Antonio, the bridge is the silent spectator of the times gone by, witnessing the transition of city over almost a century now.
Countless vehicles, from bicycles, horses driven carts and model Ts to modern automobiles have crossed the bridge, while it stood firmly with San Antonio. During these years the bridge became an integral part of the city, a silent but participative entity in the every day life of the city. The worn out surfaces and scarred railings of bridge presents a snapshot of century of San Antonio, reflecting almost all the years gone by in a single glance. The bridge is a collective memento passed over generations and it holds a very place not for an individual or a group for the whole city of San Antonio .
Future of the bridge To protect the bridge, many groups and organizations have come forward, launching a campaign to convert this historical bridge as a permanent landmark. Their efforts have helped the bridge-earning place in several records of important historical structures in Texas. Texas Transportation department, with consultation from the activists and prominent persons interested in restoration of the bridge, has also identified the bridge in its list of protected historical structures. In year 2000 Hays Street Bridge received a grant of $2.
1 million under Federal Transportation Equity Act for 21st century, for restoration purposes. Through public campaigns and collections, Hays Street Bridge Restoration Group, and San Antonio Conservation society have been able to further raise around $ 300,000 contributing it towards restoration purposes. City planners and officials of transportation department are of the opinion that after conducting a preliminary safety check, the bridge can be opened only for pedestrians and cyclists as a gateway to the eastside of the town.
It is expected that restoration work would be completed by 2007 and bridge would become fully functional in its limited capacity. It is certainly an important news for the city. Conservation activist Nettie Hinton echoes the feelings of San Antonio in describing the bridge as a cultural gateway to collective history and past, dissolving psychological and physical barriers in the community and helping the city to reestablish its links with its own past.
Amy Dorsett. 2005. Groups out to save East Side bridge. Express News. mysanantonio. com. Accessed online on 07.11. 2007 http://www. mysanantonio. com/news/metro/stories/MYSA022805. 8B. bridge. ee2f25b4. html Patrick Driscoll. 2001. The Hays Street Bridge Series. American Society of Civil Engineers. Accessed online on 07. 11. 2007 https://www. asce. org/pressroom/honors/haysbridge. cfm Trails to Treasures. Press Release. San Antonio Conservation Society. Accessed online on 07. 11. 2007 http://www. saconservation. org/news/haystreetbridge. htm Hays Street Bridge. Sanantonio. gov. Accessed online on 07. 11. 2007. http://www. sanantonio. gov/Historic/docs/Hays%20Street%20Bridge. pdf