‘Major’ K.M. Van Zandt and his namesake Fort Worth bridge

Posted Monday, Nov. 11, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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The opening of the new West Seventh Street Bridge makes it timely to remind ourselves of the history of this crossing of the Clear Fork of the Trinity River and one of Fort Worth’s most important founding fathers, for whom the bridge is named, “Major” K.M. Van Zandt.

Tennessee-born Khleber Miller Van Zandt came with his parents to the Republic of Texas as a 3-year-old in 1839. After practicing law in East Texas and being shaped by uniformed duty in the 7th Texas Infantry of the Confederate army, he moved his family to Fort Worth in 1865.

Van Zandt built the first bridge to connect his 600-acre farm to the growing city. The location was a low-water crossing for the Weatherford stagecoach where his homestead, now known as the Van Zandt Cottage, was built on high ground to the west.

An enterprising visionary, Van Zandt became known as “Mr. Fort Worth” for the role he played in the development of the city. He led in bringing the railroads to Fort Worth and in establishing the post office, school system, the newspaper that became the Star-Telegram, the Fort Worth National Bank and other businesses.

The farm and its bridge became the conduit for expansion to the west, and streetcars used the bridge to travel to these new developments.

With further growth, the city needed land for a waterworks plant and an official park, so Van Zandt sold some of his land below his new home on the bluff for the water works and that across the river for a park, which was later added to and called “City Park.” The bridge was then referred to as the “City Park Bridge.”

As use continued to grow, city leaders had a wider and stronger structure built to replace the original bridge in 1913. In 1922, the city named the bridge the Van Zandt Viaduct as a tribute to Van Zandt, approximately 50 years after he obtained the city charter for Fort Worth while serving in the Texas House.

Over time, the bridge became more commonly known as the Seventh Street Bridge.

What was once the Van Zandt Farm is now the site of Trinity Park, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Kimbell Art Museum, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Will Rogers Memorial Center, Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, Botanical Research Institute of Texas, Fort Worth Botanic Garden, Farrington Field and a thriving commercial district.

Recently listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Van Zandt Cottage is Fort Worth’s oldest dwelling still standing on its original site.

As a testament to his stature, on Nov. 6, 1926, business leaders Amon G. Carter, A.L. Shuman, Harold Hough, J.W. North Jr., and Bert N. Honea sent Van Zandt a letter on the occasion of his 90th birthday:

“Few communities have been as fortunate as Fort Worth and none more fortunate — for few, if any, have had their Maj. Van Zandt. For 60 years your efforts, your money and your wise counsel have been at the service of your fellow citizens … Yours has been a well-rounded life that has left its impress upon this city and its people as that of no other man.”

From Van Zandt’s humble bridge to the 1913 Van Zandt Viaduct , which replaced it and served for 100 years, to the new engineering marvel just completed, we celebrate not only the new Van Zandt Viaduct, but the history of this important river crossing and remember our rich heritage and those who came before us to this place, this frontier, to plant the seeds of our great city, “Where the West Begins.”

Ted B. Gupton is president of the board of directors and executive committee of the Van Zandt Cottage Friends, Inc.

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