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A bridge across time

 
A bridge across time
ERIC MORENO — The Mueller Bridge at McAlister Crossing is 100 years old this year. It is on the National Register of Historic Places and is a registered Texas Landmark.

“The wisdom of bridges comes from the fact that they know the both sides, they know the both shores!”

-- Turkish Playwright Mehmet Murat ildan

Built in 1915 by the Alamo Construction Co. of San Antonio, the Mueller Bridge at McAlister Crossing was an important part of the community in La Vernia for more than 70 years, from its inception until its relatively recent closing. Spanning the Cibolo Creek on C.R. 337, the bridge is a “three-span, riveted, polygonal, Warren pony truss” and reaches a length of over 252 feet.

It was important not only as a way and means to traverse a potentially troublesome stretch of water, but also because it is a sterling example of period engineering. It was this that earned the Mueller Bridge a designation on the National Register of Historic Places and as a registered Texas Historical Landmark.

In the early 1850s, shortly after coming to La Vernia, settler John McAlister (1807-85) purchased several hundred acres on the southwest banks of the Cibolo Creek. On his property was a natural crossing that had been known to the Native Americans who previously lived on the land.

The Mueller family purchased the land in 1906; they were the landowners when the bridge was constructed. In 1915, the Wilson County Commissioners Court decided to erect five bridges in the county, including one at McAlister Crossing, the most expensive of the new structures, costing nearly $9,000 when it was completed.

“[The bridge] provided a safe crossing for people living on both sides of the Cibolo, especially during wet weather when the Cibolo levels were high,” said La Vernia Historical Association President Elaine Stephens. “The La Vernia school bus used the bridge until it became unsafe. Sometime after that, it was closed.”

The bridge, now part of the Hickory Hills Ranch property, was condemned by the county and closed to traffic in 1988. As it enters its 100th year in existence, the bridge currently is being monitored as an endangered landmark.

Family ties

A landmark to some, the bridge is a way for the Hines family to connect to their past.

“For years, the bridge has been a part of our family ranch,” said Jennie Hines, who, along with her husband Bobby, currently owns the Hickory Hills Ranch property. “During my childhood, the wooden bridge was always in use. If you lived anywhere near there, you knew when somebody was coming across that bridge because those wooden planks made a clatter when a vehicle drove over them. It wasn’t an objectionable sound at all, but it was very noticeable.”

Since it has not been in regular use for more than 30 years, it would only stand to reason that the bridge would one day fade into memory and be remembered only by the historical markers that identify it on the side of the road.

For the Hines family, the bridge holds great meaning. It is not just a structure used to cross a river, but it is also used to cross time.

“From the time I was a little kid, my mother and father taught me the history of the ranch, including the old bridge,” said Jennie and Bobby’s daughter, Heather. “I can remember riding

four-wheelers by the bridge and walking the river bottom with my dad and seeing the bridge. It was always a neat reminder of the history and heritage of our ranch and our family.”

Earlier this year, Heather was preparing for her wedding, set for Oct. 9, and was going through old photographs. Rosa Lee Hines, Heather’s paternal grandmother, came across a photo of herself and her then- fiancÚ, Robert, which they had taken on the bridge for their engagement photo in 1945.

Cherished memories

The photo struck a chord with Heather and she was determined to forge another connection to her family and family home. The photo represented everything she loved about her childhood, her family, her home, and her community. Heather and her fiancÚ, Joshua Wright, decided to replicate the image for their engagement photos.

“I adored the photograph and it is now in my bookcase in my living room,” she said. “I wanted to duplicate that image because my grandmother is one of the most incredible, loving, and generous women I have ever known, and because one day I hope to be the kind of grandmother she is, and to have photographs that tell the story of the ranch and our family to share with grandchildren.”

After clearing the area leading up to the bridge of overgrowth and covering some of the holes to ensure its safety, the photos were taken and memories were made.

“That day I had the best time, because they were so fun and went above and beyond to get images we would cherish forever,” Heather said. “At the end of that day, I looked back at the bridge and said a silent thank you for all the joy the ranch, my grandparents, and my family have given me throughout the years.”

Looking forward

What’s in store for this historical bridge? Currently, it is fenced off and inaccessible to the public. Since it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2007, the Mueller Bridge has been the subject of frequent conversations with local, state, and national organizations. In 2006, for example, the bridge’s future was discussed by the Texas Department of Transportation, San Antonio River Authority, Wilson County Historical Society, the Texas Historical Commission, and Preservation Texas.

“There have been talks about stabilizing the bridge in the past,” said La Vernia Historical Association President Elaine Stephens. “The owners of the property around the bridge are rightfully concerned about safety and trespassers. There have been suggestions for making it a walking path, but stabilization is the priority.”

 
 
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