In 1846, crossing the Trinity River on horseback cost a dime. Sheep and hogs, another three cents each. These were Dallas County’s adopted ferry rates in the mid-1800’s. Doesn’t quite compare to driving over the Trinity via today’s designer $182 million, 400-foot-high arched Calatrava Bridge with steel cords beautifully strung like a Dallas Symphony cello.
Yes, Dallas had ferries. At least seven. Several of today’s area highways hint of this history—Dowdy Ferry Road, for example. According to Dallas Trinity Trails, these crude ferries began as hollowed out cottonwood trunks laid with planks, barely able to float a wagon.
John Neely Bryan, best known as the Father of Dallas, owned and operated the Bryan Ferry formerly located at the site of today’s Commerce Street Bridge.
Bryan was a busy man. Not only was he city founder and ferry operator, he served as postmaster and storeowner. And, he was one of Dallas’ early politicians serving as a delegate to the Texas State Democratic Convention in 1853. Bryan was a mover and shaker during the time Texas was wedged between the romantic old South and exciting western frontier. Between statehood and succession. Between then and now.
During November—the month especially devoted to thankfulness—we owe a debt of gratitude to Bryan and other forward thinking pioneers who paved the way for early Dallas commerce. Today’s $1 billion-plus price tag to overhaul the twenty-mile stretch of the Trinity River, including new infrastructure, better flood protection, recreation areas and a toll road provides a study in how far John Neely Bryan’s city has progressed from his one-room log cabin on the banks of the Trinity.