Stephen F. Austin State University

Caddo Lake Drawbridge (January 2014)

Caddo Lake Drawbridge
By Jeff Campbell

Pass the Spanish moss in the Cypress trees
Flowing like a lover's hair in the gentle breeze
Stop at the old drawbridge, down in Mooringsport
It's a place of peace, to let our thoughts sort.*

Before 1914 if you were going to make it across Caddo Lake, near Mooringsport, Louisiana you had to take the ferry. The Progressive era, at the dawn of the 20th century, was bringing invention and change to the United States, especially in transportation; changes a ferry could not handle.

In 1897 Ransom E. Olds introduced his Oldsmobile and Henry Ford started the Ford Motor Company in 1903. In 1908 Henry Ford rolled out his T-Model Ford. The T-Model, also known as the Tin Lizzie, is recognized as America's first affordable automobile. Henry Ford's assembly line construction method kept prices down and made the automobile a mass market item. Now the automobile was not only for the affluent but the middle class as well. With more and more automobiles on the road the ferry became ineffective for America's transportation needs.

In 1914 the Caddo Lake Drawbridge was built in Mooringsport to meet those needs. One of the obstacles, to building the bridge, was the need for vertical oil machinery to pass through the lake. It was decided that a vertical lift bridge would meet the needs of both ground and waterway transportation.

The bridge was designed by John Alexander Low Waddell of the engineering company Waddell & Harrington. Waddell and his partner, John Lyle Harrington, designed over 30 vertical lift bridges between 1907 and 1915. The bridge was built under the authority of the Caddo Parish Police Jury. Now folks did not have to wait on the ferry to get across Caddo Lake.

The Louisiana Department of Highways assumed owner ship of the bridge in the 1940's. By this time the oil machines were no longer navigating the lake so the bridge's lift features were no longer needed. The counterweights that allowed the bridge to lift were disconnected and dropped in the lake.

Unfortunately the progress that made the Caddo Lake Drawbridge necessary would also, over time, make it obsolete. The narrowness of the bridge forced the Louisiana Department of Highway to make the bridge a single alternating lane in the 1970's. In 1989 the Louisiana Department of Highways received funding from the Federal Highway Administration for a new two lane bridge close to the draw bridge. It seemed the little draw bridge would be lost as the plans for the new bridge called for demolishing the old drawbridge.

The local citizenry launched a campaign to save the bridge. Linking a chain of local, state and federal officials the plan was to convert the bridge to a pedestrian walkway and tourist attraction. It was decided to use the demolition funds to restore and convert the bridge to a pedestrian walkway.

The 1990's brought recognition of the Caddo Lake Drawbridge's historical importance. In 1991 the Historic American Engineering Record assessed that the bridge's unique design ( a direct descendant of the first vertical lift bridge, Chicago's 1893 South Halsted Street Bridge), historic significance of its engineers (Waddell & Harrington) and that it was the only bridge of its type left in the state of Louisiana, made the bridge historically significant. This assessment opened the door for the bridge to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The only hurdle was to transfer ownership back to Caddo Parrish; this was accomplished on October 3, 1995. Then on October 18, 1996 the Caddo Lake Drawbridge was officially entered into National Register of Historic Places.

For someone like me, who has spent most of their time on Caddo Lake around Uncertain and Karnack, Texas, the bridge gives a different perspective of the lake. Instead of narrow passages, bewitching bogs and mysterious bayous the bridge gives the eye an unobstructed, open view of the majestic lake.
In 2014 the Caddo Lake Drawbridge celebrates its 100th anniversary. I invite you to "stop at the old drawbridge, down in Mooringsport". The bridge is an excellent place to walk or just sit and watch the sunrise or sunset.

*Lyrics from the song "Take A Ride With Me", written by Jeff Campbell and Raphael Espinoza.
*Pictures by Jeff Campbell