Postcard From The Regency Bridge

The Regency Bridge
The Regency Bridge spans the Colorado River just outside the tiny community of Regency, Texas. Known to the locals as "the swinging bridge," it is located at the intersection of two gravel roads, Mills County Road 433 and San Saba County Road 137. Built in 1939, it is a simple 325-foot long, one-lane bridge with a wood surface used by the local farmers and ranchers in a remote, very rural section of the state.

So why in the world is this particular bridge being featured in this blog when there are literally thousands of rural bridges serving the people of Texas? Well, because this bridge has become famous for several reasons. The first and most obvious reason for bridge fanatics is because in 2005, it officially became the last suspension bridge in Texas open to automobile traffic. All the others have been closed to cars or have been abandoned and fallen into total disrepair or been torn down and replaced by newer, more modern, boring, cookie-cutter concrete ones. This is the last one standing.

Colorado River from the Regency Bridge
There's another reason "the swinging bridge" has become famous, which to the author of this story, is the most important. This is the bridge featured in the opening/closing credits of the TV show Texas Country Reporter. A lot of folks, myself included, first became aware of the Regency Bridge by seeing it on the show and refer to it simply as "the TCR bridge." People often ask me where I get my inspiration for traveling to the places I go and Texas Country Reporter is one of those places. It's one of my favorite shows and I've been watching and saving notes from it since the mid-1970's when it was known as 4 Country Reporter. In my humble opinion, the host and producer, Bob Phillips, has just about the best job in the world. I never hear that theme music without nostalgically thinking of growing up in my native state of Texas.

For a number of years, after finally figuring out exactly where the bridge is located, I've wanted to go see it for myself, but somehow, it just never was possible. Something would come up that cancelled the trip or changed my direction of travel away from it. Twice I was in the area, but torrential rains came and dissuaded me from traveling down those back-country gravel roads. Eventually though, early this year, I made it! My good buddy (not from Texas and doesn't have a clue about the show) who was on the trip with me found the bridge interesting, but from his somewhat confused expression, I'm pretty sure he was merely humoring me and not asking why in world we had driven several hours to get there. To me, it was well worth the trouble and if you are as big of a fan of Texas Country Reporter, you will too.

Colorado River viewed from the Regency Bridge
If you want to visit the TCR bridge yourself, from Goldthwaite, take Highway 574 west until you come to Highway 573 on the right. Go a little further to the dirt road on the left. Take this dirt road and angle right when needed until you reach the community of Regency. You can catch an excerpt of Texas Country Reporter and information on The Regency Bridge here.

That Time In Texas When A Monkey Was Killed Crossing The Road

Town limit sign near the site where
a monkey made a fatal mistake.

The first settlers in Archer County, Texas were ranchers and today, ranching is still the main driver of the area's economy. In 1886, Sam Lazarus purchased the land owned by the Stone Cattle and Pasture Company and established a ranch. He sent to Kansas for Tom Mankins, an experienced ranch foreman, to come down and manage his cattle operation and erected a house for Tom to live in.

In 1890, the Wichita Valley Railway laid tracks across the Lazarus Ranch to connect Wichita Falls with Seymour. They laid a spur line to the ranch headquarters by Tom's house to facilitate cattle shipment. Tom established a supply store at the end of the line as a supply point for the local cowboys and railroad workers to purchase essentials. 

In 1908, Charles Mangold purchased the whole operation and established several business's, including a small hotel, located next to the main rail line. He plotted a town site and began advertising lots for sale. By 1912, enough people had established residence in the community that a post office was applied for. The first name submitted for acceptance by the post office was Mangold, but there was already a town by that name so it was rejected. The next name submitted was Mankins, to honor Tom Mankins. This was accepted and the town of Mankins was officially born with 55 people calling it home. The town continued to grow as a supply point for the surrounding area and eventually included several stores, a thriving bank, two churches, several hotels, restaurants, its own telephone exchange, two schools educating over 400 students and a moving picture theatre.

During this time, a local cowboy, Dick Dudley, gained fame for being a superb horseman, able to ride even the meanest, rankest wild horse. In 1914, a traveling wild west show came through the area and offered cash prizes for cowboys who thought they could ride several of the unbroken wild horses the show had. Dudley rode them all, one after the other, collecting all the cash prizes. While collecting his winnings from the owner of the show, Dudley found out he was having financial difficulties and was trying to find a buyer. Dudley returned his winnings for sole ownership of the show, the contracts of the performers and all of the show's assets. Under his guidance, the show traveled throughout the small tows of West Texas. Although not a roaring success financially, Dick managed to turn a small profit. More importantly, he discovered he very much enjoyed show business.

Dudley expanded the show to include circus-type acts and carnival attractions like rides, games of chance and side-shows such as "Elephant Boy" and "The Snake Girl." During its heyday, the show employed as many as 250 people.  For four months every winter, the show, the animals and most of its employees settled in Mankins for the off-season. For 70 years, well into the 1980's, the town benefited from the influx of winter residents and the additional cash they brought in, but ultimately, it wasn't enough.

Dick Dudley's stone house in Mankins
The consolidation of the ranches and farms and better roads making it possible for residents to live and shop in larger cities began taking a toll on the town. Another limiting factor was the continued lack of potable water. Often, the town required water to be brought in by rail or water tanks. Fewer residents meant fewer students in the Mankins school district and in 1947, it consolidated with the Holliday school district and the school closed its doors. The depopulation continued until the post office closed in 1958. Today, Mankins is a virtual ghost with an official population of just 10 hardy souls, a few empty houses and scattered debris documenting lives of the past.

Abandoned structure in Mankins

For many years, travelers told of seeing elephants, zebras and other exotic animals roaming around among the homes and in cages along the road as they passed through Mankins. One time, a semi-truck driver noticed one of the elephants was standing right beside the highway. Unfortunately, he was staring at the elephant when a monkey who had escaped from his cage decided to run across to the other side of the road. The driver didn't see him in time, the monkey wasn't fast enough and Mankins remains the only place in Texas where a monkey was killed while crossing the road.

Another abandoned building in Mankins.