Update on Esch’s Spur Bridge

Hole in Roadbed of Esch's Spur Bridge

Back in June we wrote an article on the Esch’s Spur Bridge (also denoted as Kirk Bridge), a well-known triple-arch bridge outside Dexter, Cowley, Kansas, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. After extensive flooding in May, 2019 the middle arch sustained substantial damage, which we were not aware of when our first post was published.

Partial Collapse of Pudden Bridge
Obscured by the cutwater, nevertheless loss of the facing of the arch is plainly visible.

A notable portion of the arch has collapsed, causing loss of part of the spandrel wall as well as fill, with a resultant hole in the roadbed.

Hole in Roadbed of Esch's Spur Bridge
Hole in the roadbed of the Esch’s Spur Bridge caused by the partial collapse of the middle arch and the spandrel wall above.

This only remaining triple-arch bridge in Cowley County, Kansas, is now in imminent danger of being lost, for a few more floods high enough to reach the damaged portion of the arch can finish destroying this part of the structure, making the rest of the bridge very vulnerable to total collapse. Such damage as the Esch’s Spur Bridge has sustained is in fact repairable, but tends to require more specialized and expensive work. As far as we know, no plans have been made to repair the bridge.

As an interesting aside, what causes a partially collapsed arch bridge like this to stand at all is the fact that the arch stones drop out in a corbelling fashion. Corbelling is one way to span a gap with stone, and transfers thrust in a series of steps to solid material.

By 1922 there were 14 stone bridges over the Grouse, the smallest of them being a fifty foot single arch span. It was large bridges like this that made Cowley County famous for its stone bridges. Cowley alone excelled in building large, daring structures. The Esch’s Spur Bridge is a structure unique to the area from an engineering standpoint, and is one of but three remaining stone arch bridges over Grouse Creek (the Neer Bridge and the Fromm Bridge, both north of Cambridge and within about two miles of each other being the other two). As this is the largest stone bridge built over Grouse Creek (and thus one of the largest stone arch bridges built in Cowley County, Kansas) it is our sincere hope that a means to save this structure can be found.

It was the unfortunate flood in 2016 which caused the failure of the McCaw Bridge (Fox Bridge) over Grouse Creek in northern Cowley which was also responsible for the initial damage to the Esch’s Spur Bridge.

Update on Esch's Spur Bridge
A mural showing things significant to the town of Dexter, including the horse the town was named after, dirigible airships representing Dexter helium, and the idealized form of a certain triple-arch stone bridge….