THROWBACK THURSDAY: Recalling the Gabriel Mills bridge dedication

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Madge McCormick Smith provided the ceremonial first ride across the new bridge at Gabriel Mills in one of her convertibles. Her riders included Audrey McAndrew Brizendine (in front seat with Smith), Charley Mather (passenger side rear seat) and Harold Asher. (James Wear Photo)

Madge McCormick Smith provided the ceremonial first ride across the new bridge at Gabriel Mills in one of her convertibles. Her riders included Audrey McAndrew Brizendine (in front seat with Smith), Charley Mather (passenger side rear seat) and Harold Asher. (James Wear Photo)

By JAMES WEAR

Back in December of 1987, I was among those to attend the dedication of a new bridge crossing the North San Gabriel River at Gabriel Mills, a small community located on CR 236.

Among those attending the event were Harold Asher, a widely-known educator who also earned acclaim for his historical research; Charley “Huldy” Mather, father of Liberty Hill residents James Mather and Debbie Rampy; and Audrey McAndrew Brizendine. Those three were to receive an honorary “first ride” across the bridge in a convertible owned by Madge McCormick Smith. All four of these folks were longtime residents of the area.

Wesley Foust, then Williamson County Pct. 2 Commissioner, was on hand to snip the ribbon while Ed Brizendine served as mastor of ceremonies. Asher and Brizendine offered remarks and shared memories of the historical past of the Gabriel Mills community.

Sam Wayman, pastor of the Bertram Cumberland Presbyterian Church, provided an invocation while Morgan Clark, pastor of the Mahomet Christian Church, gave the benediction.

At the time I was running a newspaper that served Liberty Hill and Florence and in the Dec. 2 issue of my newspaper I ran a front-page story about the upcoming dedication with a sidebar penned by Asher in which he wrote about the history of the Gabriel Mills community.

His article follows: “The old Gabriel Mills bridge was built in 1893 by the Chicago Bridge Company to span the water of the North San Gabriel River. The bridge was dedicated with barbecue, speeches, a baseball game and horse races. Mr. Dave Hawkins used to tell about being at the dedication. He said he rode a bicycle from the lower picnic ground to the bridge with Dave Reed riding on the handlebars. Dave was a small boy then.

“The great politician, orator, the elderly Cyclone Davis was making the dedicatory out on the bridge. The Hawkins lived near by. The Tobe Reed family lived down on the Gabriel on what is known now as the Dennis place.

“Mr. Tobe Reed and family moved to Bertram. He opened the large store and bank, where Mr. and Mrs. Bob Brewer are located today. Dave operated the bank for a while. Dave and Malcom moved to Austin and went into the cotton and cedar business. They soon became millionaires. Dave was killed in an airplane crash.

“During the Great Flood of 1921, two sections of the old bridge were washed away. It was soon rebuilt and served until 1957 when another flood washed out the same two sections that were washed out in 1921. This time it was not rebuilt, but a low water bridge was constructed. This was never satisfactory, because during a rise sometimes traffic would be stopped for several days.

“Gabriel Mills got its start in 1849 and was a thriving village for many years. The first mill was built in 1852. In 1862 the mill was changed from water power to steam. A cotton gin was also added. Besides the mill and gin there were three stores, a post office, a blacksmith shop, Mt. Horeb Church, Mt. Horeb Masonic Lodge, a medical doctor and one time a saw mill. The first store was a log cabin.

“Gabriel Mills was also on the old cattle trail. Thousands of head of cattle passed through on their way to northern markets. The cowboys would stop by getting their supply of whiskey before proceeding on their way.

“When the railroad missed Gabriel Mills and went by Liberty Hill and Bertram, Gabriel Mills began to decline. Today there is nothing left except the old graveyards, the historical marker and a beautiful new bridge.”

***

I snapped a roll of film that day, but due to unforseen circumstances at the time, the photos I took were never published. Recently, while rummaging through a box of old film negatives, I came across the pictures I took with several of those appearing here. Many of those who participated in the event have since passed on.

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