A Rusk footbridge continues to attract residents, a Cherokee County Historical Commission member said.
The footbridge, which is 4-feet wide and nearly 500-feet long, is just east of the square in downtown Rusk, and “is believed to be the longest wooden trestle-type bridge in the United States,” according to information from the Cherokee County Historical Commission.
Cherokee County Historical Commission Chairwoman Elizabeth McCutcheon said the footbridge was first built in the 1860s so residents could go across the creek and visit businesses when they needed to.
“The valley was impossible to cross during the rainy season because (of) the small stream flooding,” according to information from the Cherokee County Historical Commission. “Many citizens of Rusk lived east of the valley, and the footbridge served as a means for them to get to the town businesses, schools and churches. The first construction was a crude platform bridge less than three feet wide with no railings but after several mishaps, railings were added for safety.”
It was later deemed “inadequate for traffic,” and T. H. Barnes, an engineer who in the 1880s was building New Birmingham, now a Cherokee County ghost town, made plans for a new bridge there and served as a construction supervisor.
The city of Rusk maintained it until 1950, according to a Texas Historical Marker.
“That year, the city council decided to abandon it,” according to the Cherokee County Historical Commission. “Drainage problems had been solved, several paved streets had been built across the valley, so they considered its maintenance an unnecessary expense and the bridge fell into disrepair and nearly forgotten until the Rusk Tourism Committee, the Rusk City Council and a group of interested citizens decided to restore the more than a century old landmark.”
It was restored in the late 1960s using Barnes’ plans, according to a Texas Historical Marker.
Former Rusk City Councilman Thomas Parsons, who works for the Rusk Volunteer Fire Department, said the bridge has been rebuilt other times — once 25 years ago and again about five or six years ago.
Among the famous people who have used the bridge are former Texas governors James Stephen Hogg and Thomas Campbell, lawman Richard B. Reagan, Reagan’s brother, John H. Reagan, Texas jurist S. A. Willson and blind poet Robert McEachern (McCann), according to information from the Cherokee County Historical Commission.
“The bridge also most probably was used by the many famous visitors and investors in the New Birmingham iron venture,” the information reads. “Their names appear frequently on the old register of the Southern Hotel of New Birmingham of which includes Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, Joy Gould, Hetty Green and the authoress, France Hodgson Burnett.”
Today, Heritage Center of Cherokee County museum curator Kevin Stingley said the footbridge is still functional, and people can walk from one end to the other.
He said there used to be a lot of school functions around that area.
Ms. McCutcheon said the footbridge also has been an attraction.
“It really is comfortable. … People go there and have lunch in summer,” she said.
“It’s real helpful to be able to get away from an office and walk.”
Ms. McCutcheon said some Texas Historical Markers also are nearby.
Parsons recalled a family’s visit to the bridge maybe eight years ago.
He said a couple and their daughter came by the fire station looking for the footbridge and he directed them there.
He said he was told that while they were walking across it that day, they heard somebody laughing and talking.
They turned around, he said, and saw a woman and a girl, having a good time and holding hands. But when they looked again, the girl and woman were gone, Parsons said.
He said the family came back to the fire station and told him about it, and he informed them that around the beginning of the 20th Century, a woman and her daughter drowned in the creek below the bridge. They had never heard the story, Parsons said.
The bridge overall is described in information from the Cherokee County Historical Commission as “a matter of great pride and pleasure to the citizens of Rusk,” and something that “will not only serve the people as a thoroughfare, but as a historical landmark of considerable significance.”