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The Willis Bridge over Lake Texoma


Bridge scaffold
Constructing the bridge in 1960 was an enormous undertaking (Daily Oklahoman).

Upon the completion of Lake Texoma in 1944, Marshall County, Oklahoma and Grayson County, Texas saw themselves without a direct route into each others' states. Prior to the lake, at least five ferries took residents over the Red River: Stillhouse, Willis, Bounds, Henderson, and Rock Bluff. A bridge at Woodville (Marshall County) had been erected by the 1930s. But the lake drowned all of the crossings, so to reach the other side, people had to drive either east to the US 75/69 bridge between Colbert and Denison, or west to cross between Thackerville and Gainesville.


The damming project of the Red and Washita Rivers had budgeted to build a steel bridge at the Willis ferry crossing, but WWII put a damper on the plan because the country required the metal for the war effort.


Not all hope was lost, though: a steel and concrete bridge was erected instead. It took almost fifteen years to plan, however, because funds had to be found. Inflation had driven the construction costs from an estimated $1.2 million in 1941 to $7 million in 1951. It was also a dangerous bridge to built: divers had to sink the piers below the lake bed in near black-out conditions. President Eisenhower authorized it nonetheless, and groundbreaking occurred in 1958. By 1960, the bridge had been completed.


The "Willis Bridge" now connects Oklahoma to Texas over Lake Texoma along US 377. It spans 4,943 feet across the lake — at this time, it was considered the longest bridge in Oklahoma. The bridge rises 654 feet in elevation, higher than the Roosevelt Bridge (the bridge at the Denison dam), to prevent potential inundation.


Bridge construction
Another view of the bridge's construction (Daily Oklahoman).

Newspaper
OVer 5,000 people attended the dedication of the Willis Bridge in 1962 (Madill Record).).

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