Iron Bridges of Burnet County coming back to commissioners court



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The North Fork San Gariel Bridge, called the Joppa Bridge, is open to the public, unlike the Russel Fork San Gabriel Bridge, which has been blocked off to public access, accordinto to local historians, who appeared before the Burnet County Commissioners Court Nov. 14. The problem is back on the court's agenda again Tuesday, Nov. 28.





By Lew K. Cohn

Managing Editor

The Highlander

Once a common fixture across the landscape, there are just two historic iron bridges remaining in Burnet County — the North Fork San Gabriel Bridge on County Road 200, commonly known as the Joppa Bridge, and the Russell Fork San Gabriel Bridge on County Road 272.

Built in the early 20th century and each more than 100 years old, these two structures are now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

While the public has access to the Joppa Bridge, a landowner has blocked off the entrance to the Russell Fork San Gabriel Bridge with a barbed wire fence, local historians told the Burnet County Commissioners Court during Tuesday's regular meeting.

“The south gate has been padlocked and people can't get legally to the bridge at all,” said author Rachel Bryson, who wrote the definitive history of the bridges in her book, “North of Joppa: Volume I,” and wrote a number of columns about her experiences growing up in the Joppa area for The Highlander.

“The property owner has denied access and does not want anyone on the bridge,” added Lela Goar, chairman of the Certified Local Government committee of the Burnet County Historical Commission. “He has posted a no trespassing sign in the middle of the bridge. There are people who have wanted to go across the bridge for different purposes, but couldn't because it has been blocked off.”

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.

When Burnet County built the new Russell Fork bridge in 2005, it executed a warranty deed which exchanged property between the county and a local landowner, but also set aside a 20-foot right of way where the original county road was located for the county to retain so the bridge would remain on public property and be accessible to the public.

Unfortunately, Bryson said she has been unable to find a copy of the warranty deed in the Burnet County records.

Bryson and Goar, who are among those working to erect historical markers at both the Joppa and Russell Fork bridges, said plans have been in the works to hold a dedication ceremony to celebrate the bridges and their lasting impact on Burnet County history.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Russell Graeter, whose precinct contains both bridges, said both the old and new bridge at Russell Fork are both in what is public property and the public's access to them should be unfettered.

“By the time you take in the right of way and both bridges, all of the property there should belong to the county,” Graeter said.

County Judge James Oakley asked County Attorney Eddie Arredondo to look into the matter and determine what needs to be done to provide public access to the property. Arrendondo will report back to the court at the Nov. 28 meeting.

Last year, the Iron Bridges of Burnet County Benefit, held by the Burnet County Historical Commission, helped raise money to preserve the bridges and purchase historical markers.

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