What do the states of New York and California have to do with the founding of Bridgeport , Texas ?  Well, as you will see, quite a lot.  It was through the efforts of motivated pioneers and entrepreneurs from these two divergent states, in addition to determined local settlers, that lead to the establishment of Bridgeport .

One such spirited individual was a fellow by the name of William Hudson Hunt who was born and educated in New York but moved to Texas in 1836 at the age of twenty one.  Hunt was a surveyor and was appointed to a council charged with locating the site of the new Texas Capitol building.  He was also later named the official surveyor of Texas public and school lands and was active in the mapping of the Mercer and Peters colonies.  Hunt was selected as a guide on several expeditions and his leadership abilities were recognized early in his exploits by being commissioned a Colonel in the Republic of Texas Army .

Colonel Hunt also amassed large holdings of land, and in 1855 settled on the edge of the frontier in what was soon known as western Wise County .  He affectionately named his cattle and sheep ranch “Cactus Hill” and was prominent in the organization of the county and the birth of Bridgeport .

About the time William Hunt was settling into his new lifestyle, the citizens of the recently admitted state of California continued to press the federal government to build a transcontinental railroad to the West Coast.  Of equal concern was the lack of communications to the folks back east.  Mail and travelers destined to the new state were forced to travel by ship to Panama , unload and trek over the mountains, board another ship and then continue the journey past Central America and Mexico before reaching their destination.  The other alternative was to sail around the tip of South America which took another ten days.

With talk of California seceding from the Union if travel and mail service didn’t improve, the Post Office Department solicited bids for an overland mail route to California that would run twice a week and not exceed 25 days in duration.

New York businessman and financier John Butterfield was awarded the contract in 1857 and began service the next year.  This new passage started in Tipton , Missouri and ended almost 2,800 miles later in San Francisco .  The route selected brought the Butterfield Overland Mail through North Central Texas including Wise County .

The original route the stage followed through this area was from Gainesville to Jacksboro that included 4 stops between these two towns and followed a path located in northern Wise County .  The line crossed the West Fork of the Trinity River east of Jacksboro and often encountered a flooded river that made the crossing more difficult.

Colonel Hunt no doubt recognized the problem Butterfield encountered and being the businessman and surveyor that he was, proposed a solution.  Hunt and several colleagues from nearby Decatur received a charter from the state to build a toll bridge across the West Fork southeast of Hunt’s Cactus Hill ranch.  Butterfield was persuaded and   re-routed the stage across the toll bridge and dropped the previous stations in favor of the toll bridge route which now included a stop in Decatur .  The Butterfield Stage route through Wise County during this time period can be seen on the upper left map shown below.

The Butterfield Overland Mail operated in Texas from 1858 until 1861 when the route was moved farther north for various reasons.  In the meantime, a community sprang up at the location of the toll bridge Colonel Hunt built. The new town named Bridgeport boasted of having many fine homes, a hotel, post office, cotton gin, sawmill, school, general store, saloon and Masonic Lodge.  A drawing of Old Bridgeport can be seen below on the upper right figure.

The original wooden toll bridge collapsed and was later replaced in 1883 with a steel bridge.  The town continued to flourish until the Rock Island Railroad completed a rail line in 1893 to Fort Worth from Oklahoma that passed a couple of miles east of Bridgeport.

It was during this time of railroad expansion that many towns owed their existence to the location of these lines.  Bridgeport was one of these towns.  The Rock Island sold parcels of land and the “Old Bridgeport ” moved lot, stock and barrel the short distance to be closer to the new railroad.  A drawing of Bridgeport in its new location can be viewed below on the lower left figure.

While the old town of Bridgeport has vanished under cactus and cedar elms, the Bridgeport we know today is alive and well thanks to a couple of New Yorkers and our early friends from California. A map of Bridgeport in 2005 is shown on the lower right map.

Compiled by Ken Sprecher


Click on Photos to Enlarge
Butterfield Stage Route thru Wise County 1860-1861 Old Bridgeport 1860-1890
New Bridgeport 1900 Bridgeport 2005
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