I’d put together a list of a number of historic buildings and other structures in Waco so that if we had the time, we could locate them and take a few photos…
Here are the photos we took as we explored parts of town.
This is the Praetorian Building, a historic 7-story building that was constructed in 1915 after the then, popular Chicago School style of architecture. It was built to house the Praetorian Insurance Company. The Praetorian Insurance Company was also responsible for the first skyscraper west of the Mississippi River, the 15 story Praetorian Building in Dallas.
After a little research I learned that the building has been refurbished and they are leasing “Luxe Tower Lofts”, Commercial Space and “Anthem Studios”…a creative work space.
The ALICO Building is shown on every episode of HGTV’s “Fixer Upper” with Chip and Joanna Gaines. This 22-story office building was built in 1910 for the Amicable Life Insurance Company at a cost of $755,000. It was completed in only one year and was also one of the first skyscrapers in Texas, with the first being the 14-story Praetorian Building in Dallas Texas, preceding it by only a year.
The building is today owned by the American-Amicable Life Insurance Company of Texas (a subsidiary of Industrial Alliance) and it remains as the tallest building in Waco. The "ALICO" sign is spelled in red neon letters on the top of the building can be seen for many miles.
The ALICO Building was one of the few downtown office buildings that survived the 1953 Waco tornado outbreak. It swayed several feet when the tornado hit it directly, but its steel frame structure allowed it to survive the winds.
The McClennan County Courthouse in Waco was built during the ‘golden age’ of Texas courthouses, when counties escalated an architectural arms race to assert their glory through granite, glass and steel.
In Victorian-era Texas, James Riely Gordon was the courthouse architect to beat. His 1902 classical-style courthouse for McLennan County emerged as one of his last and most impressive creations before he packed off to begin an eminent career in New York. This beautiful building is considered to be a leading example of Beaux Arts classical architecture in Texas.
McClennan County has seen its share of disasters and headline grabbing news over the years:
· The crash at Crush Texas was a publicity stunt back in 1896. William George Crush with Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad came up with the idea of staging a spectacle…a head-on train wreck with 2 steam locomotives and cars loaded with railroad ties. 40,000 people showed up for the action! When the trains collided, there was a huge explosion and debris flew everywhere…killing 3 and injuring 6.
· Following World War 1, racial violence disrupted county life, culminating in two major Ku Klux Klan marches (one in Waco and another in Lorena) as well as the public lynching of numerous Black citizens. In actuality, 492 lynching occurred in Texas between 1882 and 1930 including 129 white/Hispanic and 339 black citizens. The most horrific and most notorious lynching was that of Jesse Washington at Waco in 1916. To learn more just go to: http://usslave.blogspot.com/2012/01/1916-lynching-in-waco-texas.html.
Other county events of significance will follow later in this post…
This is the Waco Suspension Bridge over the Brazos River in Waco adjacent to downtown Waco. This single-span suspension bridge built with almost 3,000,000 bricks, has a main span of 475 feet. It was the first major suspension bridge and it opened for traffic in 1870.
Due to lack of machine shops in the Waco area, getting the materials to the building site was a journey in itself. The nearest railroad was 100 miles away, and the closest town with artisans with the required skills was Galveston, over 212 miles from the build site. Supplies were loaded onto a steamer in Galveston and ferried to Bryan Texas. Then they were loaded onto wagons pulled by oxen. It’s reported that even by 19th century Texas standards, the pothole-filled dirt road from Bryan to Waco was terrible.
The bridge collected its first toll on January 1, 1870. The bridge was wide enough for stagecoaches to pass each other, or for cattle to cross on one side of the bridge, and humans to cross on the other side. Being the only bridge across the Brazos at the time, the cost of building the bridge, (estimated at $141,000), was quickly paid back. Tolls were 5 cents per head of cattle that crossed and there was also a charge for pedestrian traffic.
In 1889, the bridge was sold to McLennan County and all tolls were removed. Major reconstruction in 1913 – 1914 replaced older steel with higher gauge materials and trusses were added to allow the span to accommodate heavier weights.
By 1971, the bridge had seen over 100 years of traffic. What started out as a Cattle Bridge had become a vehicular bridge, and the state historical committee decided that it was time for it to be retired. By all accounts, this bridge helped to transform Waco from a small frontier town to a major commercial center. Today the bridge is open to foot traffic only…
The Washington Avenue Bridge across the Brazos River is about a block away from the Waco Suspension Bridge. It too is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This bridge was built in 1902 and, at the time, was the longest single-span vehicular truss bridge in Texas. It has a 450-foot span across the river.
Additional incidents in McClennan County:
· Many will remember the 1993 Waco Siege of the Branch Davidian Sect’s compound which took place just 9 miles from town. Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Agents from the Federal Government attempted to perform a search of the facility and a gun battle ensued. The initial result was the deaths of 4 ATF Agents and 6 Branch Davidians. The FBI took over the scene and after a 51 day siege a fire resulted and 76 Branch Davidians died in the flames. To learn more, go to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waco_siege.
· Much more recently, in May of 2015, motorcycle clubs gathered at the Twin Peaks Restaurant in Waco for a Confederation of Clubs meeting. After the arrival of the Bandidos Motorcycle Club, violence erupted between members of the Bandidos and the Cossack’s Motorcycle Club. The result was 9 dead and 18 wounded in the gunfight. The restaurant never reopened and the building is up for sale…
Here is yours truly posing between a couple of bronze longhorn cattle. The “Branding the Brazos” was a $1,650,000 project funded in large part by a Waco businessman. This gathering of sculptures pays homage to Waco’s 19th century days as a major stop for Chisholm Trail cattle drives from South Texas up to Kansas.
This completed sculptural project is located in Indian Spring Park and is set adjacent to the Waco Suspension Bridge. The park marks the location where the town originated and where the Hueco Indians had settled at the location of an icy cold spring.
· The Hueco or Waco Indians were a band of the Wichita culture. Most of them lived in a large village on the Brazos River where present day Waco is. They had about 60 permanent houses here ca. 1830. They lived in the houses during the spring and summer and tended crops in nearby fields. They grew beans, squash, corn, melons, and watermelons. In the winter, after all the crops were in, they would leave the village and travel around the southern plains to hunt buffalo.
"Branding the Brazos"features three cowboys — one white, one Hispanic and one black — driving 25 head of longhorn cattle to the western approach to the Waco Suspension Bridge. This is one of the most-photographed sites in Waco.
Here Laurie is posing with one of the cowboys...the ‘trail boss’ on his horse. This group of statues in Indian Spring Park is one of the largest sculpture projects in the state.
· The African-American cowboy in the grouping was modeled after Holt Collier, an actual cowboy and bear hunter best known for accompanying President Theodore Roosevelt on a 1902 bear hunt. Collier, who was told to make sure the President got a bear, tracked one down and tied it to a tree. But Roosevelt refused to shoot the animal. The incident reported in newspapers around the country led to a toymaker naming his stuffed toy bear “Teddy’s bear.”
It took 8 years to get the 3 cowboys to round up 25 of these bronze longhorns for their approach to the Waco Suspension Bridge! The resulting display is very impressive…
The Dr. Pepper Museum is housed in the 1906 Artesian Manufacturing and Bottling Company building located in downtown Waco. The 100 year-old building is listed in the National Register of Historic Places as the "Home of Dr. Pepper.”
Located at the corner of Fifth Street and Mary Avenue in Waco’s turn of the century manufacturing district, this former bottling plant was in a sad state of repair in a neighborhood comprised mostly of abandoned warehouses. The Dr. Pepper Company donated the historic building to a non-profit organization in 1988. After renovation the museum was opened to the public in May of 1991 and expansion of the exhibits and museum have continued to this day. Website: http://drpeppermuseum.com/.
· Here’s a bit more Waco history… The 1953 Waco tornado outbreak sequence was a series of at least 33 tornadoes occurring in 10 different U.S. states from May 9 to May 11, 1953. An F5 tornado struck Waco on May 11, causing 114 out of 144 deaths in the outbreak. The Dr. Pepper museum building was impacted by this massive tornado. If you look again at the photo, you will see the light yellow brick on the side of the building. That wall had to be rebuilt after the storm…
This is the St. James United Methodist Church. It is one of Waco’s oldest churches. The church congregation was first organized in 1874. This modified gothic revival house of worship was completed in 1924. The church was founded by slaves.
In 2015 the church’s membership was down to fewer than 30 members and the church was facing possible closure. The building was actually put up for sale with an asking price of $495,000. I don’t know if a sale went through but the sign in front of the church has the following wording under the church’s name: “Lease me for your church, restaurant or venue”. Apparently the congregation has been forced to relocate.
We really enjoyed exploring historic Waco but that’s about it for this post. Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…
Thanks for stopping by for a short and partial tour of the town!
Take Care, Big Daddy Dave