Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Historians and residents preserve historic bridge in Collin County
The Highway 5 overpass in present-day Fairview is more than 120 years old.
Collin County was a very different place when Nancy Bush Morian was a little girl.
Cotton and corn were the bread and butter of farming families. Ice was delivered door-to-door on hot summer days. The old Interurban railroad, built in the 1910s and running from Dallas to Denison, was an essential lifeline for North Texas travel at a time when most Collin residents didn't own automobiles.
Morian, now 88 and living in McKinney, grew up on a farm near the still-standing Highway 5 railroad overpass in present-day Fairview, a town her father, Edgar Bush, helped incorporate in 1958.
Alongside the west side of the farm sat a 27-foot, stone-and-brick railroad bridge, built in 1872 over Sloan Creek as the Houston and Central Texas Railroad extended from Houston to Kansas.
In 1924, Morian's father built a concrete dam at the creek, and the resulting lake -- christened Bush Springs -- would serve as the first swimming pool in the Allen-McKinney area.
"Families would get together and cook together over an open barbecue pit," Morian said. "The banker and the baker and all the families knew each other. ... That was entertainment. The adults would sit around and talk and the kids would play."
Though the dam was destroyed by a flood in 1929, the Bush family farmed the land until 1968, when the property was sold to a group of private investors. It changed hands several times over the next two decades before being purchased by David Petefish, a member of one of Fairview's oldest families, in 1992.
Petefish, who discovered the historic bridge while checking the creek for erosion prior to buying the property, said he was taken aback by the impressiveness of the 120-year-old-structure.
"I had never really been down to this section of the creek," he said. "When I went down there it was so spectacular ... Any kid would love to play in that creek."
The overgrown bridge had survived a severe flood in 1964, and the downstream face of the bridge wall had been heavily damaged by the water flow and replaced with concrete. Bridge abutments for the old Interurban were also still on the property, though the tracks were long gone.
The bridge came to the attention of the Allen historical community in 1998, when local historian Lindy Fisher approached Petefish about photographing the site. After completing a master's degree in archaeology in 2005, Fisher began working on getting the structure listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which would qualify it for much-needed repair and restoration grants.
To apply to register the site, Fisher had to take photos of the bridge, locate old maps of the area, and write a research paper on the importance of the location to the United States. She also needed to locate an old photograph of the bridge to prove its historical importance, a task Allen historians been unable to complete when attempting to get the Allen Station railroad dam, which was also built by the Houston and Central Texas Railroad in 1872, on the same registry.
In 1927, a photograph was taken of then-3-year-old Morian playing with a young neighbor boy at Bush Springs, with the railroad bridge visible in the background. Fisher, who had interviewed Morian for other historical projects in years prior, asked the woman to track down the photograph, which was sent to the registry with the application. Morian was also able to find wooden lockers from the Bush Springs bathhouse and the pool's original sign. The bridge -- as part of a larger historical district including a smaller bridge upstream, a railroad cistern, the site of destroyed section house, and a 1930s dam -- was designated as a National Historical Site in May 2010.
"I love to save stuff in this area because it's getting covered over very quickly with concrete," Fisher said. "I can't believe just 150 years ago we had Indians attacking people, no cars, and wagon trains."
Saving the bridge has become even more important in recent years. Erosion of the structure has increased rapidly since water drainage from the U.S. 75 and Sam Rayburn Tollway interchange began to flow downstream to the bridge a few years ago. Deep erosion has set in at the bedrock, and the northwest wing wall has already collapsed due to the increased water flow.
In 2009, Fisher began contacting Dallas Area Rapid Transit, who now owns the railroad and bridge, about possible repairs and restoration. When the bridge became a historical site, DART agreed to apply for historical restoration grants to protect the bridge from further damage. The transportation agency will likely start applying for grants within the next two years, Fisher said.
"We got the right people from DART to start working on it, and we want attention brought to the dam," she said. "This extra water is going to destroy it if something's not done."
On July 25, an on-site dedication ceremony was held for the bridge. Speakers included Dr. Mack Hill, Ted Wright of the Collin County Historical Preservation Group, and local historians Ken Byler and Tom Keener. Among the 30-40 attendees were Morian, DART representative Victor Ibewuike, interim Fairview Town Manager Julie Couch, and Fairview town council members Mary Price and Henry Lessner.
"[The railroad] was very important, because it allowed for crops and cattle to be shipped up to the markets up north and on to Europe," Keener said. "Before the advent of the railroad, we couldn't ship the grain, the cotton, and the corn and the wheat fast enough, because it rotted. When the railroad was built, it could be in Chicago the next day. Our cattle could be in Chicago the next day and then sold in the markets up north."
Currently, the property is closed to the public and dangerous to navigate. Petefish said he plans to turn his adjoining property into a high-quality development, with 10 percent of the property near the bridge becoming a town park. He is now working with a developer to find a way to ease access to the area.
"I would tend to say it's going to continue to be upgraded," he said. "We would like to see the bridge fixed. As long as we own the property next do it, we would like to have the bridge visually appealing, but as long as you don't actually own the land you don't want to put money into something just to have it torn down or washed away. So everybody has to work together on it."
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