Iola Bridge

by Paula Bosse

iola-bridge_city-park_ca-1908“Looks like California…” — City Park, ca. 1908 (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

Old postcards of (Old) City Park always seem kind of mysterious to me. I’m fascinated by photos of what was, for many years, Dallas’ only park. It was very big and beautifully landscaped — and it was one of the things about the city that those of earlier generations were most proud of. The postcard views above and below are from the early days of the twentieth century, and, sadly, those views don’t exist anymore — it’s hard to  believe they EVER existed here. Even though there’s a hint of what you might see at Reverchon Park, there’s little else about these images that looks like the Dallas of today. What a shame!

But what’s the story behind the attractive little “Iola” bridge? Built in 1905, it was, apparently, Dallas’ first (or possibly second) concrete bridge. The Iola bridge was far sturdier than the wooden bridges around Dallas, and a concrete bridge also required very little upkeep. In fact, this little bridge “of ornamental design” is actually kind of important — it was often cited by city planners and commissioners when discussing the construction of future bridges around the city.

concrete-bridges_dmn_081005Dallas Morning News, Aug. 10, 1905

It seems wooden bridges were being washed away almost as often as Dallas courthouses were burning down. In a letter that appeared in The News on Feb. 21, 1911, it was noted that, while wooden bridges were “under constant repair,” the concrete Iola bridge “has not required one dollar of outlay […] during its six years of existence.” So … cheaper and sturdier. Bye-bye, wooden bridges!

But “Iola” — where did that name come from? I thought it might have been the name of a wife or mother of a mayor or planner, but I HIGHLY suspect it was merely the name of the company that donated the cement for the bridge’s construction, the Iola Portland Cement Company. The company’s canny “civic donation” ultimately paid off BIG for them in the end. Not only did they supply the cement to build that first very pretty little bridge in a very pretty park, they also, ultimately, get whopping new orders from the city for all those new concrete bridges that began to be built — including, less than ten years later (when the Iola company’s West Dallas plant had been sold to the TEXAS Portland Cement Co.) the Trinity River-spanning Oak Cliff/Houston Street viaduct, which, when it opened in 1912, was the longest concrete bridge in the WORLD! And it all began with that unassuming bridge in scenic City Park.

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Below, a couple of views showing the charming and rather more rustic wooden bridges in the park.

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iola-cement_directory-1905

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Top postcard found somewhere on the internet. All other postcards from The Watermelon Kid — here.

Black and white photo by Victor H. Schoffelmayer appeared in The Dallas Morning News on Oct. 9, 1921; it was one of several photographs of the Iola bridge, taken by members of the Dallas Camera Club.

Iola Portland Cement Co. ad from the 1905 city directory.

A Dallas Morning News article from July 14, 1905 detailing the new improvements to City Park (including the concrete bridge) can be read here. (I don’t think the really wonderful-sounding “cascade” was ever built — and that’s a pity, because it sounds like it would have been beautiful!)

Most images larger when clicked.

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Copyright © 2015 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

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