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The Collapsed Toll Bridges at Sowell and Telephone, Texas

The question remains, why?

Suspension brige with road bed twisted.
In January of 1934, the suspension bridge at Sowell's Bluff between Fannin (TX) and Bryan (OK) counties, built by the Austin Bridge Company, collapsed. The bridge had become "freed" less than a year prior to its demise (Oklahoma Historical Society).

The toll bridges at Sowell's Bluff and at Telephone at the Red River, between Fannin County, Texas and Bryan County, Oklahoma collapsed in 1934. The question remains, why?


In 1924, J.A. Everman received the contract to operate a ferry at Sowell's Bluff. However, the Good Roads Committees of Durant and Bonham urged the erection of bridges instead. In 1927, the Austin Bridge Company out of Dallas built a suspension bridge at the bluff. Clauds Oldham was hired as the toll bridge keeper.


When the bridge was opened to traffic in 1927, Miss Isabel Moor was crowned Queen of the Bridge. Way to go, Isabel!


In 1933, paving for the road that led from Bonham to the Sowell's Bluff bridge, designated as U.S. 78, commenced. This led to the buy-out of the bridge from the Austin Bridge Company, and the bridge became a free span that same year. Woohoo!


But oh no! The bridge collapsed within a year of it becoming "freed." Motorists were forced to cross the river at the toll bridge at Telephone (Fannin County, Texas), which was another suspension bridge erected and owned by the Austin Bridge Company. Was the loss of the Sowell's Bridge sabotage? Unfortunate timing? Bad weather? The newspapers seem to be silent on the matter.


As soon as the bridge collapsed in January 1934, there were talks with politicians to "replace the bridge at Sowell's Bluff." The citizens of Bonham urged that the ferry used to replace the crossing in 1934 should be free of charge, and passed a tax on themselves to make that happen. Way to go, Bonham! By the end of the year, a free ferry operated at Sowell's Bluff.


If you'd like to find the site of the ferry, use these directions from the Bonham Daily Favorite, 17 October 1934. "The ferry is something less than a mile east of the old bridge site. Just before reaching the old bridge site, take the right-hand road, drive down the Ivanhoe road for about a quarter of a mile, and you will find the new road to the ferry."


But ferries are not that convenient when it comes to trucking produce between markets. The chambers of commerce in Bonham and Durant, as well as the respective state governments, insisted on a free bridge. By 1939, the a new bridge was erected at Sowell Bluff after a thorough engineering report on ground stability. The bridge consisted of multiple steel trusses that covered the two-lane road.


The next year, the toll bridge at Telephone (Fannin County), operated by the Austin Bridge Company, collapsed too. Hmmm... sabotage? Bad weather? Bad feelings?


The toll bridge at Telephone was never replaced. The new bridge at Sowell's Bluff, unfortunately, was replaced by a simple concrete structure in 2019. I say unfortunately, because it ain't pretty.


A steel truss bridge over the Red River
The new, free bridge across the Red River at Sowell's Bluff between Fannin (TX) and Bryan (OK) counties opened to great fanfare in 1939. It was replaced a few years ago with a much more utilitarian structure (Fort Worth Star Telegram).

Suspension bridge with road bed collapsed into the Red River
The Austin Bridge Company also built a suspension bridge at Telephone, Fannin County, Texas in 1927, the same year that the Sowell's Bluff suspension bridge was built. Both bridges were owned by the company and charged tolls. In 1933, the bridge at Sowell's Bluff became a free bridge; in 1934, the Sowell's Bluff bridge collapsed. Motorists used the Telephone Toll Bridge. Then, in 1934, a free ferry at Sowell's Bridge operated, and by 1939, a new free bridge was erected at Sowell's Bluff. The next year, the toll bridge at Telephone collapsed. Hmmmmm.... (Fannin County Historical Society).

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