Published on August 18, 2020

The bridge they built over dry land

Believe or not, this made Brazosport possible

By Jan Edwards
The Bulletin

Believe it or not, one big reason Brazosport is here today in its current prosperous form is because of a river diversion project 93 years ago that required the construction of a bridge over dry land.

The Brazos River has always been a conduit to the shipping industry, but early in the 20th Century, the shoaling at the mouth and debris coming down river when it was on a rise hampered ships getting in and out of Port Freeport.

As the sulphur industry grew, a more stable harbor was required. The Freeport Sulphur Co. supported the organization of the Brazos Harbor Association, and in 1925 a group of engineers proposed to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers an “intermediate diversion” of the mouth of the Brazos.

The Corps approved the project. This was the first time a governmental agency gave consent to divert a stream as large as the Brazos from its original bed.

One of the first actions taken toward that goal was to let a contract in 1927 for a 610-foot-long drawbridge across dry land where the diversion channel (on Hwy. 36) would eventually flow. In December 1928, dredging of the Brazos River Diversion Canal, using the sea-going hydraulic dredge “Catt,” began on the six-mile channel.

The bridge over the Brazos at Hwy. 36 was completely constructed in place on dry land. It came to be known as the “Believe It or Not” Bridge, as it was featured in Ripley’s syndication of the same name.

On Sept. 15, 1929, the Brazos River was diverted to flow down the new channel under the bridge built on dry land. It may have been an oddity then, but the bridge would soon serve a useful purpose and later become part of a bigger plan that would change Brazosport forever.

The immediate effect was that the diversion cut off the harbor channel so that Freeport Sulphur could bring its boats in there.
But this new channel also became the key to the planning for Dow’s new plant here. It made it possible to take ocean water in the old river mouth, extract bromine and magnesium and then discharge the stream back into the Gulf several miles down the coast, avoiding the possibility of reprocessing the same water again.

The diversion made Freeport stand out, and it became a finalist, along with Corpus Christi, for Dow’s new plant. Freeport won it all, thanks to the foresight of the Freeport Sulphur Co. to convince the Corps to embark on this diversion project many years earlier.

Dow dedicated $18 million to build the new plant and purchased 800 acres at $100 per acre. The company then built its plant and started extracting metal from seawater - and the area began to grow.

And the “Believe it or Not” bridge had a lot of believers.

Today, when you drive down Brazosport Blvd. (State Hwy 288) between Freeport Municipal Park and Brazosport High School, you are driving over the dam that started the project.

Believe it or not.

(Write Jan in care of The Bulletin. Email: john.bulletin@gmail.com. Snail mail: The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton TX, 77516.)