The first bridge connecting Galveston Island to the mainland was a railroad bridge completed in 1860. This bridge was lost during a subsequent hurricane, but additional railroad bridges were built in 1869 and in 1877. All of these bridges were simple timber trestles.
In 1893, a new bridge was constructed - but this one was for the use of horse-drawn wagons.
Hailed as “the longest bridge exclusively for wagons in the world” at the time of its construction in 1893, the wagon bridge provided a route for farmers on the mainland to sell their produce to island residents. Unlike the wooden railroad bridges, the two-mile wagon bridge was constructed with 80-foot long steel truss spans on concrete piers. While the design was structurally solid, it came at a premium cost.
Funded through a public tax increase, the bridge project was unpopular with many residents who felt the limited usership did not justify the price. Local business leaders, however, saw it as an opportunity for mainland farmers to reach markets in Galveston. They also hoped that it would encourage development of farming communities in the region.
In an effort to improve the public’s perception of the bridge and to build excitement about its construction, the Chamber of Commerce appointed a committee to host a celebration marking the bridge’s formal opening. Chamber Secretary C.H. McMaster took charge, and after months of careful planning, the elaborate affair was scheduled for mid-November 1893. Every effort was made to make it a fun and joyous celebration for the community.
The opening day included a formal dedication of the bridge with the Galveston mayor and the county judge present, along with a representative of the general contractor. All incoming wagons were invited to join a street parade along with the Galveston Artillery, brass bands from Hitchcock and Alvin, and the Galveston Fire Department.
Numerous prizes were awarded to parade participants including a lot of land at Virginia Point, a new saddle, a rifle, a cook stove, a diamond ring, and even a set of gold false teeth valued at $50. Local merchants donated the gifts for the winners of various categories such as “best native winemaker,” “sweetest honey,” “prettiest baby,” and “oldest farmer’s wife.” The parade concluded with a procession to the Beach Hotel where a fireworks display wowed the crowd.
Day two included cruises along the wharves onboard steamships departing from Kuhn’s Wharf. The public was invited to watch rescue demonstrations by local firefighters and by the marine lifesaving crew. Afterwards, an oyster roast was held at Woollam’s Lake.
With all of the work and expense that went into building Galveston’s wagon bridge, it sadly had a very short life. Just seven years after it opened to such great fanfare, the bridge was washed away during the devastating hurricane of September 8, 1900. It was never rebuilt.