Bridging The Gap of History



Joppa natives and historians are banding together to repair and preserve two historic bridges in northeastern Burnet County.

The Iron Bridges of Burnet County project is a group focused on the repair and preservation of two of the county's historic bridges by raising money through a community fundraiser.

The North Fork San Gabriel Bridge on County Road 200 and the Russell Fork San Gabriel Bridge on County Road 272 were each built in the early 20th century and are now eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, a project news release stated. It is the goal of the project to repair the bridges for safe access by the public and use for pedestrian and bicycle traffic.

Lela Goar, Chairman of the Certified Local Government Committee in Burnet County, said these two bridges are the only ones left still in their original places on county property.

“We've been interested in this project for the last three to four years, but with the lack of volunteers were were unable to get it going,” Goar said, adding that the group had applied for a grant last year but were not awarded the grant.

“We decided to start the process on our own and fundraise,” she said.

Goar said Burnet Courthouse records showed the North Fork bridge, also known as the Joppa Bridge, was built in 1907, and was bypassed by a new bridge in 2000. The Russell Fork bridge was built in 1911 and was bypassed by a new bridge in 2005. The two bridges are the last accessible bridges that were built following a Burnet County bond issued in 1898 for $40,000. The bond paid for iron bridges across the county, and was paid off by 1940.

“Preserving and restoring the dignity of the bridges will remind the community of the forward thinking and progress the county was making at the beginning of the 20th century,” project officials stated in the release. The bridges the county built during that time increased economic development, expansion of population and access to education in the rural community.

It was also a focal point for the social activities of the budding community, said Goar, including the embellishment of the bridge with Christmas decorations every year.

“The railroads built were traveling through the county as early as 1882, but the numerous rivers, creeks, and tributaries were often hazardous barriers for individuals traveling, transporting livestock, cotton and other agricultural good to the railheads,” project officials said. “Rural schools only took students through the sixth or eighth grades.”

Author Rachel Bryson said her family, who has been in the Joppa area for generations, passed down stories about the old days.

“They had to take them (goods) across the creeks when it was low water, and sometimes your grain wasn't ready, and then there was a flood,” she said. “My mother remembers herding cattle and sheep to town.”

In her book titled “North of Joppa: Volume I,” Bryson shares the history of the two bridges and the Joppa community, as well as several columns she wrote for The Highlander from 2006 to 2009 about her own experiences growing up in the community.

“I plan to do other volumes,” she said. “This is something I've been thinking about doing for a long time.”

Her book will be sold at the Iron Bridges of Burnet County Benefit on Saturday, Sept. 17. The benefit will take place from 5 – 7 p.m. at the Joppa Fellowship Hall, and is hosted by the Burnet County Historical Commission.

The benefit will include a live cake and pie auction, a history presentation about the county bridges, a classic car show featuring members of the Lake Area Rods and Classics Car Club, and a booth for signed copies of the book “North of Joppa: Volume I.” All proceeds from the book sales will benefit the bridge preservation. Joppa Bridge T-shirts will also be on sale at the event. Admission is $10.

The benefit is aimed to raise funds to repair the bridges, obtain State Historical Markers and to place both bridges on the National Register of Historic Places.

“To put them on the state registry, it's $1,800 a piece and the national registry is $150 a piece,” Goar said.

“The bridges are both threatened resources as the Joppa and Russell Fork bridges will continue to deteriorate,” project officials said. “Informative historical markers and an attractive accessible atmosphere to the bridges over the San Gabriel River will inform residents and visitors of the rich history of Burnet County in the 20th century.”

The Joppa Fellowship Hall is located at 8425 County Road 210. For more information about the project, contact Lela Goar at 512-585-7606 or JoAnn Myers at 512-277-4838.

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