Bridges of the Lower Rio Grande Valley
Part VIII: Additional Information on the Bridge Series
By NORMAN ROZEFF
Special to the Star
Thanks to feedback from alert readers we have added information to the series on Valley bridges. Reader Mariam Topp contacted Joan Jones, who then from memory reconstructed some history of the Progreso to Nuevo Progreso Bridge in which her husband and father-in-law were once stockholders.
Mrs. Jones relates: The official dedication of the bridge was in the summer of 1954 (two years after its construction completion) In attendance were the board of directors of the corporation and its stock- holders. Following the formalities, the attendees crossed the bridge to Nuevo Progreso with its dirt street split in its center by palm trees.
The bridge was commenced on land that belonged to the Fernandez family, who had leased some of the its Toluca Ranch area on the American side for a 99 year period. This would allow room for the future bridge’s approach, customs offices, and payment gates. On the Mexico side the government was not allowed to enter into a bridge contract, so a retired Mexican army general took on the task of the Mexico side infrastructure.
His son, a lawyer from Monterrey, furnished the necessary funds for what would turn out to be a twenty-five year lease of ownership on the Mexican side land. Upon the cessation of the lease, the area was nationalized by Mexico federal authorities.
The funds for the bridge construction came from stock holders living in Mercedes, Weslaco, Donna, La Feria and other Valley towns. The majority stockholder was Mordicai “Mordie” Adams Mummert of Progreso Lakes, who would will his share of the bridge stocks to the Knapp Memorial Methodist Hospital. He was to die on 13 April 1976. Other stockholders were John C. Jones (Joan’s father-in-law) of La Feria and Shelley Hale Collier, Sr. of Mercedes.
These latter two individuals had continued to pay for the annual bridge license of the Rio Rico Bridge, even after the flood of 1941 had swept it away. This, of course, facilitated the approval for the new bridge by the B&P Bridge Company, a toll bridge operator and original owner of the suspension bridge at Rio Rico. Other directors were William Chadick Cain, Judge J. C. Looney of Edinburg, the McAllens, Shelley H. Collier. Jr., John C. Jones, Jr., and Clayton Malone of Progreso Lakes.
Mr. Alvey Morris Cain was selected to be the bridge manager. and would remain in that position for many years. In 1958 Alvey’s son William Chadick Cain, after being granted a Customs Broker license, established Cain Customs Brokers. When Alvey gave up the toll bridge operation, his son William Chadick Cain would become bridge manager and would continue in this capacity until 1985 when he resigned to devote his full time to the brokerage business.
Set up on the American side were a U. S. Customs office along with a U. S. Agricultural Inspection Station, and a Texas Liquor Taxation booth. The initial fee to cross the bridge on a vehicle was approximately $1.00 on the American side but only twenty five cents coming from Mexico. In order to generate more traffic across the bridge, the directors decided a restaurant in Mexico was in order.
Arturo Arrendo, a restaurateur of Mercedes, was approached to open such a facility. He, with the help of his brother, did so, and Arturo’s soon became the popular “in place” for American visitors to the small town.
In the early 1980s Sam Sparks of Santa Rosa began buying stock shares of the bridge. He would then acquire a majority interest from the original stockholders and the Knapp Memorial Methodist Hospital thereby completing his acquisition of the bridge around 1985.
There are but four privately owned bridges in the United States, and all are in Texas. These are the ones at Progreso, Roma, Rio Grande City, and Eagle Pass, all on the border with Mexico. John C. Jones, Jr. once served as president of the Texas-Mexico Bridge Owners Association comprised of these entities. William C. Cain also served at one time in this capacity.
Still unanswered are questions about two Port Harlingen area bridges. We have been unable to establish the date when the Union Pacific replaced the 1927 steel railroad bridge that had initially served the Southern Pacific to cross the Arroyo Colorado close to the port. Secondly the low water wooden bridge to cross the Arroyo in order to access Cemetery Road was built and maintained by what entity?