The Story of the Neer Bridge in Cowley County, Kansas

Cowley County is famous for its stone arch bridges. From Dexter’s massive triple-arch Pudden Bridge on the National Register of Historic Places to the tiny, poorly documented Stalter Bridge near Rock, Cowley County, Kansas, features a wide array of stone arch bridges in every shape and size. Many of these bridges have an interesting tale behind them. One such bridge is the double-arch Neer Bridge over Grouse Creek.

The Neer Bridge
The downstream face of the Neer Bridge, Cowley County, Kansas.

The double-arch Neer Bridge is one of Cowley’s “newer” stone arch bridges. At a casual glance, it is immediately apparent that the Neer Bridge is quite a sizable structure. It is also a tad peculiar, with its abruptly angled approach from the north bank, which acts as a ramp to reach the bridge.

A closer look reveals that the Neer Bridge was built in a fashion similar to the Pudden Bridge: the arches meet on a tall pier with a cutwater as opposed to on the streambed. This increases waterway; however, this design is quite rare in Kansas.

Pudden Bridge was built by Walter Sharp in 1913. At the time Sharp was experimenting in an effort to increase waterway; hence why he built Pudden Bridge with relatively flat arches on tall piers.

It would seem, perhaps, reasonable then to assume that Sharp built the Neer Bridge, as well. After all, both Pudden Bridge and the Neer Bridge show some similarities in the design. The plaque on the Neer Bridge seems to bear out that Sharp was the builder; the plaque declares “Sharp & Son,” at least as best as can be determined given the condition of the plaque. Yet a cursory glance at historic newspapers shows that A. Cook of Cambridge built the Neer Bridge, completing it in 1914. And thereby hangs a tale.

The First Neer Bridge

The first Neer Bridge was not built by Walter Sharp; it was built by a local Cambridge man — Andy Cook. Cook was the lowest bidder on this bridge, his bid being $2675. While it appears that the bridge took a little while to build, it was completed successfully, immediately proving itself to be incredibly useful.

Unfortunately, the bridge did not last very long. The bridge went down dramatically in a flood in 1915. The Cowley commissioners were apparently concerned about the sudden demise of the Neer Bridge, for they hired Walter Sharp to poke around in the ruins to ascertain the cause of the collapse. And, perhaps, they had reason to be concerned, for the fate of the bridge was certainly unusual. The bridge was not scoured out, nor was it beaten apart by debris; the bridge actually toppled over.

A newspaper article of the time mentioned the Neer Bridge by name, and stated that it was pushed over by high water assisted by driftwood.

Based on another newspaper article, it would appear that the bridge’s fall was prompted by a giant sycamore tree too big to fit through the arches. This massive tree, apparently, had been cut down by someone upstream trying to get at a hive of bees, and then was left where the floodwaters could move it.

The tree caught against the Neer Bridge, and debris piled against it until the force of the water was strong enough to topple the bridge over, completely wrecking it.

Granted, the newspaper where this was mentioned said the bridge so destroyed was a cement bridge. The Neer Bridge was a stone bridge, but was periodically referred to in old newspapers as a cement bridge. The date and information given in the story of a giant sycamore tree wrecking a bridge north of Cambridge fit with the time of the first Neer Bridge’s collapse.

The Neer Bridge
The upstream face of the Neer Bridge. Note the quantity of stones on the opposite bank nestling against the bridge. At a glance they might pass as a riprap to stabilize the stream bank, or perhaps ruined wing-walls from the bridge. However, a closer look reveals a quantity of masonry almost flush with the ground level that looks like the abutment from a previous bridge….

The Neer Bridge Rebuilt by Walter Sharp

Walter Sharp built the replacement Neer Bridge you can see today, completing it in 1916, despite some minor trouble with floating ice damaging the arch forms. From all appearances, Walter Sharp built the replacement Neer Bridge over the ruins of the old bridge.

The Ruins of the First Neer Bridge Visible Today

There are a large number of obviously cut stones scattered under the waters just downstream of the current Neer Bridge. The north abutment nestles up against a bit of stonework just upstream from the current bridge that looks suspiciously like the abutment from another stone bridge.

So next time you stand on the Neer Bridge, look down into the water, and you will see the remains of Andy Cook’s stone arch bridge.

The Ruins of the Old Neer Bridge
This massive quantity of cut stones in the water below the Neer Bridge is the remnant of A. Cook’s attempt at building a stone arch bridge at this spot.

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