By Myra Lee Adams Goff
When I was a child, people used to just ride around to sight-see. If you want to see what people saw in that practice, just drive up Farm-to-Market Road 311 about 19 miles to a place called Esser’s Crossing. You’ll enjoy the sightseeing.
Esser’s Crossing was one of the first Guadalupe River crossings, and was known as a safe place to cross from New Braunfels and San Antonio toward Johnson City and Fredericksburg and into the northwest part of the state.
Esser’s Crossing was one of four such crossings used by farming and ranching communities, and was 19 miles northwest of New Braunfels. The flat rock bottom was necessary for horses and wagons to cross the ever-changing Guadalupe river bottom. Furious floods took their toll on the Guadalupe River even after the dams were built.
Esser’s Crossing was originally known as Henderson Crossing after Hensley Henderson. He sold the land to James Henderson, who left the area in 1860. Charles Esser homesteaded near the crossing, and in 1858, provided a public way station for weary travelers along a lonely stretch of road from New Braunfels to Blanco and then on to Fredericksburg.
Esser was a judge, justice of the peace, teacher, and brought postal service to the area in the 1890s. Esser’s place was on the trail, first known as Fredericksburg Road, then Fredericksburg-New Braunfels Road, then the New Braunfels-Blanco Road and finally FM 311.
Charles and Henrietta Esser’s homestead still stands.
Travelers often had to wait a long time to cross the flooded Guadalupe. They would camp at Esser’s Crossing, sometimes as long as two weeks. The alternative was that teamsters had to drive to Fischer Store, Devil’s Backbone or Purgatory Road to cross over the New Braunfels’ Faust St. Bridge, the only other high water Guadalupe crossing, built in 1887.
In 1904, Comal County commissioners decided to build a second high-water bridge over the Guadalupe. One of four crossings were considered and Esser’s was chosen, but not without controversy. Grover E. King Co. of Dallas built the bridge for $12,498. The construction of the bridge was Whipple truss design, very common at the time. The spans were supported by oval-shaped masonry piers and rusticated stonework.
While the bridge was being built, the Guadalupe flooded at 16 feet, the under pinning on the construction washed away and the whole unfinished span fell into the water, causing a major delay.
The first high-water bridge, the Faust Street Bridge, was 640 feet in length built in 1887. This bridge and the Esser’s Crossing Bridge looked almost identical. Crossing the Guadalupe to the Textile Mill, the Faust St. Bridge was sometimes known as the “Mill Bridge.” At a cost of $25,600, the contract was let to the King Iron Bridge Mfg. Co. of Cleveland, Ohio. Over the years, rules of the bridge reflect the times: “No livestock on the bridge” (Your imagination can probably tell you why), “Walk your horses or be fined $5.00”, and a later sign in 1912 stated that automobiles were not to exceed 5 mph.
The Texas Department of Agriculture named this bridge in 1917 as a major crossing of all traffic between Austin and San Antonio. It was used until another concrete bridge was built in 1934. In 1999, the Faust Street Bridge was designated as a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark.
Throughout its history, Esser’s Crossing was a busy place.
Reported by long-timers in the area that after World War II, troops from Ft. Sam Houston marched to New Braunfels and then on to Esser’s Crossing, where they camped overnight and then marched back to Ft. Sam the next day. Hermann Seele in his writings speaks of crossing at Esser’s Crossing early on.
The bridge was condemned in 1954 but remained visible until 1976. Comal County commissioners ordered the bridge to be torn down because of floods, fire damage and vandalism. Close by, the present bridge was built in 1978.
Historian Brenda Anderson-Lindemann and other long-time property owners have spearheaded a drive to have the area of Esser’s Crossing recognized with a Texas Historical Marker.
It’s a nice drive.