I hope the Department of Transportation remembers some history as it commits to keeping Breaux Bridge’s old lift bridge in working order. It was built in 1950 because the one before it collapsed when they tried to open it for the first time in many years.
Highway department administrator Bill Fontenot says the current plan is to keep the bridge in good enough shape to raise it once a year to repaint the crawfish emblem on its concrete counterweights.
If boat traffic on the bayou requires more frequent raising of the bridge, then DOTD could plan more repairs. But, since the Coast Guard considers Bayou Teche non-navigable for commercial traffic, that probably won’t happen. There’s about five feet of clearance under the bridge now – enough for small pleasure craft, but not much more.
As everyone knows, the first bridge to span Bayou Teche in what is now Breaux Bridge, was the footbridge built by Firmin Breaux about 1799. It was replaced in 1817 by the first vehicular bridge, built by Agricole Breaux, Firmin’s son.
That bridge was modified in 1845 to allow a lift span so that some of the bigger boats that were beginning to traverse the Teche could get through. Ox teams were hitched to a system of masts and cables used in lifting the center portion of the bridge in those days
That bridge was burned, apparently by retreating Confederates, in 1863, when federal troops were heading for Breaux Bridge. Major Powers Gallway, commander of part of the New York infantry regiment that swept up the Teche, wrote a letter describing the events in July 1863.
“On the afternoon of the 17th, “ he wrote, “I left the main column while on march through St. Martinville, with my regiment … and proceeded by road along Bayou Teche close to Breaux Bridge. When within five miles of the bridge, ten of my men encountered the pickets of the enemy, whom they drove in, taking two prisoners with three horses.
“Shortly afterward I discovered a heavy smoke above the town of Breaux Bridge and on reaching the town, I found the bridge from its main street across Bayou Teche in flames. … The enemy had, until within an hour of our arrival there, a force of 500 cavalry in the neighborhood of Breaux Bridge.”
Union troops got to the bridge before it was completely burned, however, and were able to repair it for their own use. It continued in use in Breaux Bridge until 1891, when it was moved to the Ruth community. That’s the bridge that has since been returned to Breaux Bridge and runs alongside the bayou instead of across it. It is used as a stage and pier.
The bridge built in 1899 was the first steel bridge built over the bayou. That’s the one that collapsed in 1949 when an attempt was made to open it to let a boat go through. Nobody got hurt, but it disrupted traffic for a good while.
The present bridge was completed in 1950. It was built by J.P. Ewin, Inc. Contractors of Mobile Alabama at a cost of $233,728. A Model A Ford driven by Anna Bell Hoffman was the first vehicle to cross the present bridge.