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The Index Bridge - A Good Roads Project

A lost architectural treasure along the 1819 survey line

Steel bridge with concrete abutments above a river.
The former Index bridge between Texas and Arkansas was a real beauty (Arkansas Historical Commission).

One of our readers asked about the Index Bridge, a massive structure that connects Texas to Arkansas over the Red River at a place called Index, where until 1920, a steel-cable ferry operated.

Index is so named for the survey line that separates Texas from Arkansas, established in 1819 with a treaty between the United States and Spain after the former's purchase of the Louisiana Territory (often referred to as the Adams-Onis Treaty). While it was not properly surveyed until years later, the purpose of the boundary was to define the extent of the U.S. territory, and to ensure that Anglo Americans did not enter Spanish Texas illegally. This was the reason for the erection of Fort Towson in today's Choctaw County, Oklahoma, actually.

Construction for the bridge, which included a mechanism to allow ship traffic to pass through a channel, began in 1919-1918 and was completed in 1920. It was paid for by bonds levied to residents on both sides of the Red River, who agreed to the taxes in anticipation of reimbursement by the collection of tolls, plus interest, over a period of twenty years.

The bridge's purpose, ultimately, was for tourist traffic. With the Good Roads movement in full swing, two committees approved work to improve roadbeds as the Index bridge began to take shape: the Red River Road and Red River Bridge committees. Unfortunately, the bridge was not completed yet for the Bankhead Highway's military convoy to pass in August of 1920. That would have been a humdinger of a toll collection. Instead, the Index bridge opened to traffic in September of 1920.

The bridge has witnessed lots of tragedies, especially in this flood-soaked region. Drownings occurred frequently here, and during its construction, a massive sink hole swallowed a father and his two sons. In 1931, the toll bridge operator was held up by "three middle aged men" who had also burglarized homes in Clarksville, Texas, shot and killed a police officer in Ardmore, Oklahoma, and engaged in a shootout near Estelline, Texas.

In 1931, legislators attempted to refashion the Index toll bridge into a free bridge, but some citizens opposed it because they wanted a full return on their bond investments. It finally became a free bridge in 1938, which lasted about 50 years. In 1980, this beautiful bridge was replaced by a really bland concrete structure.

Read more about this portion of the Red River Valley in my book!

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