The Thompson Bridge

Thompson Bridge

The Thompson Bridge in southern Cowley County, Kansas, is an intriguing little stone bridge spanning a branch of Badger Creek.

Thompson Bridge
The Thompson Bridge. The plaque the bridge visible here is located on the downstream face of the bridge and verifies the date and builder of this structure.

The Thompson Bridge was built by Jerry Hammond in 1906, as verified by the plaque located on the downstream face of the bridge. The bridge was originally known as the Chase Bridge, being named after a local landowner. The construction of this simple bridge went smoothly, from all indications. However, in 1922 a flood stripped the bridge of much of the stonework above the arch, which was replaced in kind.

The Thompson Bridge consists of a single, shallow, segmental arch. The bridge was widened in more recent years by the adding of a small beam bridge flush up against the upstream face of the arch bridge. While the upstream face of the bridge is obscured, the downstream face of the bridge is readily visible. The plaque is located on the downstream face.

The Thompson Bridge shows the sheer simplicity of stone arch construction. The joints in the arch stones show Jerry Hammond’s distinct method of “turning the arch” with the aid of mortar and chips of stone. As was common in Cowley County, rather than cut the stones precisely to fit, the use of chips of stone and/or mortar to form the angles of the arch cut the price tag of the bridge and allowed the use of more untrained local labor. Specialized labor was needed to precisely cut the stones (stone cutting is something of an art) and that was expensive. Anyone could make an arch with mortar and stone fragments. That said, some less exacting chisel work was done on this bridge — the arch stones distinctly show the marks of the toothed chisels used to smooth the faces of the arch.

Arch Joint
On the Thompson Bridge, the marks of the toothed chisel used on the arch stones are readily visible. Also, where some of the superficial mortar has fallen off, the artificial angles added to the arch stones (in this case mortar and stone fragments) are visible. This method of creating the angles in the arch with stone fragments and/or mortar is the secret behind Cowley’s stone bridges, for it reduced the amount of specialized labor needed to build the bridges. Often, local farmers were employed to build these structures.

Overall, this bridge is an excellent example of Cowley’s stone arch bridges. Its small size enables us to “take it in,” while at the same time it was built exactly like its much larger counterparts. This makes the Thompson Bridge an excellent bridge to visit to obtain a better understanding of how stone arch bridges were built in Cowley.

The Thompson Bridge is on the National Register of Historical Places.

Additional resource: Index of the Stone Arch Bridges of Cowley County, Kansas