From the Annals of Engineering – In 1870, the Waco Suspension Bridge opened to traffic. The WSB is a 475 foot long single-span suspension bridge over the Brazos River that looks like a smaller version of the Brooklyn Bridge. The twin double-towers on each side of the Brazos were considered engineering marvels of the day and contain more than 3 million bricks made onsite. At the time of construction, Waco lacked the ability to manufacture much of the material needed. The suspension cables were made by the Roebling Company of Trenton, NJ and other materials were made in or imported via Galveston and then shipped up the Brazos to Bryan and then by oxcart to Waco.
The WSB could accommodate two stagecoaches passing each other. But the main initial use was for cattle crossing and pedestrian traffic. For years it was the only bridge crossing the Brazos. As a result, the $141,000 cost to build the bridge was quickly paid back by tolls.
The WSB It was closed to vehicle traffic in 1971 and is now open only to pedestrians and bicycles. The bridge is in the National Register of Historic Places and received a state historic marker in 1976.
From the Annals of the Extinct – In 2000, part of what is now the Waco Mammoth National Monument opened. The WMNM is at a site where a herd of mammoths were trapped during a flood about 68,000 years ago. The area contains the remains of 24 Columbian Mammoths, along with the remains of associated animals of the late Pleistocene, including Western Camel (Camelops hesternus), saber-toothed cat (Homotherium), dwarf antelope (cf. Capromeryx), American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis), and giant tortoise (Hesperotestudo). The site contain the Nation’s only recorded discovery of a nursery herd (females and offspring) of Pleistocene mammoths, comprising at least 18 of the unearthed mammoths.
In the middle of downtown Waco near the very popular Magnolia Market at the Silos is the site of Waco’s forgotten minor league baseball stadium – Katy Park. The stadium was razed in 1965 and is now a parking lot for MM. Before that, however, it was a major feature in the Waco landscape and hosted a number of teams including the Waco Pirates, a farm team for the Pittsburgh Pirates and a semi-pro team the Waco Missions. A number of MLB Hall of Famers including Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig played at KP. For more on the story of this historic site, check out the Waco Tribune.
From the Annals of Pop – In 1923, the Dr Pepper Company was incorporated in Dallas. Dr Pepper had been made for almost 40 years after first being served at Morrison’s Old Corner Drug in Waco. The owner, Wade Morrison, employed a pharmacist named Charles Alderton, who filled prescriptions and also served soft drinks to customers. Alderton experimented with various combinations of fruit extracts and sweeteners and landed upon a combination which was later dubbed Dr Pepper. Morrison named the popular drink after Dr. Charles T. Pepper, a physician and pharmacist for whom Morrison had worked in Virginia. Today Dr Pepper is an operating company of Dr Pepper/Seven Up, based in Plano. Red has personally boycotted Dr Pepper ever since the company refused Dublin Bottling Works to continue to produce Dublin Dr Pepper.
From the Annals of the Shoot-outs – In 2015, members from the Bandidos and Cossacks motor cycle gangs and other bikers began fighting at the Twin Peaks restaurant off Hwy 6 in Waco. Police were monitoring the scene and after gunshots were fired a major shoot out commenced. As one of Red’s friends cynically reported at the time, “No one was injured – (sotto voce) – nine bikers were killed.” In fact, nine gang members were killed and twenty others injured. Unraveling the sequence of events has been challenging. It does appear that most of the dead were killed by police fire. More than 150 were arrested at the scene, but there has been but one trial of Bandido leader Jake Carrizal more than two years later. And that ended in a mistrial. The overall impression is that the McClellan County District Attorney’s office was overwhelmed with the extent of these cases and has badly bungled the investigation and prosecution of some who clearly committed crimes and others who did not.
From the Annals of the River Crossings – In 1889, the Waco suspension bridge crossing the Brazos River opened for traffic as a free bridge. The bridge had opened in 1870 as a toll bridge. Until then no bridges spanned the Brazos in Texas and for 800 miles travelers had to look for low water crossings or ferries to move east and west through central Texas. In 1866, the Texas Legislature granted a charter to the Waco Bridge Company giving the WBC a monopoly on transportation across the Brazos for 25 years and prohibiting other bridges to be built within five miles. The WBC eventually settled on a steel cable suspension bridge design as affordable and practical for the intended use. The WBC engaged the John A. Roeblng Company, the firm which originated the suspension span bridge concept. The WBC hired Thomas M. Griffith, Roebling’s chief engineer, as civil engineer for the project. The Roebling Company was commisssioned to provide cables and bridgework. After Robeling died in 1869, his four sons inherited the company, which was renamed The John A Robeling’s Sons Company. Washington Robeling, most famous for building the Brooklyn Bridge, finished the Waco bridge which opened to paid traffic in 1870. At the time, it was the longest suspension bridge west of the Mississippi River. The toll revenues quickly paid for the bridge. Popular demand for a free bridge arose and McLennan County bought the Suspension Bridge from the WBC for $75,000 and then sold it Waco for one dollar in an agreement that required the City to maintain the bridge and eliminate any tolls. The bridge was open to vehicles until 1871 serving for more than 100 years. Despite many mostly cosmetic renovations, the bridge has been restored to its original glory and is now the centerpiece of Indian Springs Park.
From the Annals of the Cults – In 1993, federal and state agents attempted to execute on an arrest warrant for David Koresh (fka Vernon Howell) and followers at the Mount Carmel Center compound of the Branch Davidians near Elk. Based on an FBI and Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms investigation, authorities sought to arrest Koresh for possession of illegal firearms. The ATF’s plan to arrest the leader of the Branch Davidians went severely awry. The BD’s were not surprised because a Waco reporter asked for directions from a mailman who happened to be Koresh’s brother-in-law. When the authorities arrived they were met with gunfire and an intense firefight broke out. Four agents and six Davidians were killed. The violence and stories about the bizarre and possible illegal practices of the BDs (including child marriage, polygamy and child abuse) captured the attention of the nation during the 51-day standoff which followed. Ultimately, the compound was attacked with tear gas and other weapons resulting in a fire which destroyed the comp0und. Only eight BD’s survived the fire. Koresh was likely killed by one of his lieutenants Steve Schneider who then killed himself.
From the Annals of the Benevolent – In 1889, Liberal Hall was destroyed by fire. The Waco location was the home of the Religious and Benevolent Association founded by James Shaw and promoted freethinking. The association began to publish a monthly magazine called the Independent Pulpit in 1883. The publication served as a forum for many of the members’ freethinking views. It was edited by Shaw and had a world-wide circulation. The introduction of such an association was bitterly opposed by churchmen across Texas. Although, the RBA planned to rebuild it never did and the suspicious fire effectively put an end to the group.
From the Annals of Public Non-Broadcasting – In 2010, Baylor University’s KWBU-TV/Waco signed off after 21 years due to budgetary shortfalls. The PBS station went on the air in 1989 as KCTF and in 1994 the license was transferred to Brazos Valley Public Broadcasting Foundation and the station was moved to the Baylor campus. The Waco community never fully supported the station and lack of local contributions ended its run. Although Baylor had majority control of the BVPBF, KWBU still technically held a community license. However, the partnership with Baylor led to the perception that it was a “Baylor station,” which further cut into the community support needed to keep the station on the air. Baylor itself was apparently uninterested in picking up the slack to keep public broadcasting on the air in Waco. Could the University’s all-consuming focus on its corrupt men’s basketball and football programs have had anything to do with that?
From the Annals of Sugary Goodness – In 1923, the Dr Pepper Company was officially incorporated in Dallas. Dr Pepper was first made in 1885 in Waco. Wade B. Morrison, owner of Morrison’s Old Corner Drug, employed a pharmacist named Charles Courtice Alderton who in addition to filling prescriptions served soft drinks to customers. Alderton’s experiments with combinations of fruit extracts and sweeteners produced one extremely popular flavor. Morrison named the beverage after Dr. Charles T. Pepper, a physician and pharmacist for whom Morrison had worked in Rural Retreat, Virginia.
Red seldom drank anything else as a youth. He still enjoys the occasional Diet Dr Pepper.