The first Protestant Czech-Moravian congregation in North America built its one-room church of hand-hewn logs in 1866. The tiny community, originally called Veseli meaning “joyous,” had already opened the first Czech school in Texas in 1859, soon after they settled on farmland eight miles south of Brenham. Their pastor was expected to do double-duty as teacher in the little church building.
Reverend Bohuslav Emil Laciak, serving as teacher and pastor in 1888, began painting the interior of the wood building using an art technique called trompe l’ oeil, a method of creating realistic imagery in three dimensions to give the impression of a basilica-style cathedral. He painted rustic-appearing brick walls that rise to the top of the windows. He produced an area above the pulpit that appears to be an apse hosting a gold chalice. The walls are circled by images of columns and arches. The ceiling is colored blue and edged with a geometric chain pattern.
Unfortunately, Reverend Laciak was killed in an 1891 hunting accident before he explained the meaning of his work, although he clearly had not completed his creation because the outlines of more designs are still visible. The congregation believes the bricks, individually highlighted in black, depict the strength of the walls of Jerusalem. The Star of David atop white pillars casting dark shadows remind congregants of the pillars of Solomon’s Temple. The chalice symbolizes the blood of Christ and the continuous chain design around the edge of the ceiling represents the unbroken link of brotherhood. The word “Busnami,” above the pulpit area translates as “God with Us.”
Czech immigrants, searching for cheap land and more opportunities, began arriving in Texas in the 1850s. Although most of them were Roman Catholics, ten to fifteen percent were Protestant and most of those were United Brethren who came to Texas after generations of persecution in their homeland. They held worship services in homes until they built this little one-room chapel. The building was enlarged and the steeple added in 1883. One hundred years later, the congregation built a new church next door, which serves a community of about sixty. The “log church cathedral,” listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is open as a museum reminding all Czech-Moravians of their rich heritage.
After the Civil War, Waco was a struggling little town of 1,500 nestled on the west bank of the Brazos River. No bridges crossed the Brazos, the longest body of water in Texas. During floods, days and even weeks passed before travelers as well as cattle on the Shawnee and Chisholm trails could safely cross the river. Although money was scarce and times were hard during recovery from the war, a group of businessmen formed Waco Bridge Company and secured a twenty-five-year contract to construct and operate the only toll bridge for five miles up and down the river.
John A. Roebling and Son of New York designed the 475-foot structure, one of the longest suspension bridges in the world at that time. Waco’s bridge served as the prototype for Roebling’s much-longer Brooklyn Bridge completed in 1883.
The fledgling Waco company ran into problems from the beginning. Work started in the fall of 1868 with costs, originally estimated at $40,000, growing to $140,000 as the investors continued to issue new stock offerings. The nearest railroad stopped at Millican, over 100 miles away, which meant that coils of wire and cable, steel trusses, and custom-made bolts and nuts had to be hauled to Waco by ox wagon over rutted, sandy roads. The contractor floated cedar trees down the Brazos for shoring up the foundation in the unstable riverbed. Local businesses made the woodwork and the bricks.
The bridge opened to traffic in January 1870 with tolls of ten cents for each animal and rider; loose animals and foot passengers crossed for five cents each; and sheep, hogs, or goats crossed for three cents each. It was not long until residents on the far side of the river began complaining about the tolls. Businessmen who used the facility joined them in their protests.
Landowners along the river began allowing cattlemen, travelers, and local citizens to cut across their property to reach the fords on the river. The uproar increased for the next nineteen years, until September 1889, when the Waco Bridge Company sold the structure to McLennan County for $75,000 and the county gave the bridge to the city.
Vehicles continued using the bridge, without paying a toll, until 1971 when it was converted to a pedestrian crossing. Today lovely, shaded parkland edges both sides of the river and the bridge enjoys a listing on the National Register of Historic Places and designation by a Texas Historical marker.