What is almost certainly the largest stone arch bridge in Butler County, Kansas, happens to be rather easy to miss. It is very easy to drive over this magnificent structure and not even know that it is there. The double-arch bridge that spans the Walnut River on NE 110th street near Cassoday hides under a cantilevered concrete slab, which allows this 1901 bridge to carry a two-lane blacktop road. As it turns out, the Cassoday double-arch bridge has had a surprising history of modifications.
It would appear that the original plans for the double-arch Cassoday Walnut River bridge were, in fact, for a single-arch bridge.
In 1901, Walter Sharp was awarded the contract to build a single 36-foot arch bridge over the Walnut River for $569 known as the Ellis Bridge, after a nearby land owner. Despite, apparently, some trouble with water washing away the stone work during construction the following year, the bridge was completed successfully in mid 1902.
It is unclear what was so special about the 36-foot-span arch. In those early days Walter Sharp specialized in 36 foot span arches.
Cowley County’s first stone arch bridge was a single 36-foot arch over timber creek. The first stone arch bridge Walter Sharp built for Russell County consists of two 36-foot arches. Also around this time Walter Sharp built a stone arch bridge for Greenwood County with four 36-foot arches.
It appears that the 36-foot arch was some sort of standard size Sharp built in this era around 1901, and that is what Butler County had Sharp build for them in the Ellis Bridge.
The First Modification
As it turned out, however, a single 36 foot arch was insufficient for the Walnut River at this point in the stream. In an effort to increase the waterway of the bridge, a 16 foot arch was added at some point to the primary 36 foot arch.
The addition also failed to be sufficient, however, and the bridge was damaged by the floodwaters. Enter Colonel Abe Matheney.
Abe Matheney was a stone mason who had already built numerous stone arch bridges for Butler County. He was one of the pioneer stone arch bridge builders of Butler County. While the Butler newspapers were already pushing for stone arch bridges in the mid 1880s, Abe Matheney helped popularize the stone arch bridge in Butler County when, in 1889, he showed off plans for a practical stone arch bridge design that could be adjusted to fit any size of stream.
In 1906, Abe Matheney was given the task of repairing the damaged Ellis Bridge, with an eye to remedying the waterway problem. To achieve this goal, Abe Matheney demolished the 16-foot arch and replaced it with another full-sized 36-foot arch. Furthermore, he added an approach to the west end of the bridge and a stone coping atop the whole structure.
The Butler commissioners were pleased with Abe Matheney’s work. The modification repaired the bridge so that waterway would not be a problem again. The El Dorado Republican heralded the repaired version of the bridge as “one of the nicest and best bridges in the county.”
It would appear that Abe Matheney did a very good job fixing the bridge and ensuring it was large enough for the stream. For, when the time came to widen the road, rather than replace the bridge, a cantilevered slab was poured atop the bridge to widen it.
At some point, large scour aprons were added to the foundations to protect them. Thus, this stone arch bridge, though heavily modified over the years, still faithfully carries NE 110th Street over the Walnut River.
Features of the Ellis Bridge
One unique feature of the Ellis Street bridge is the rather unusual stonework of the spandrel walls. Rather than consisting primarily of the usual brick-shaped stones so common in Kansas, the spandrel walls are closer to a “random rubble” type of construction, with the stones being more irregularly shaped. Since this post was first written, heavy underbrush around the bridge has been cleared, revealing more of the bridge. The “random rubble” is actually newer stonework, for there are many patches on the upstream side in this form, including a clever repair of one of the arches which had lost some stonework. Though the character of the bridge has been altered somewhat, it is well worth a visit. With its two 36-foot arches, it is probably the largest stone arch bridge in Butler County today.
If you are interested in seeing more of Abe Matheney’s work, several of his stone arch bridges across the county still remain. One of the oldest is a small stone arch bridge, which Abe Matheney built over Turkey Creek in 1897. And, in 1899, Abe Matheney erected a single 36-foot-span stone arch bridge over the Walnut River upstream of where the Ellis Bridge was later built. This bridge still carries the road today.
Additional resource: Index of the Stone Arch Bridges of Butler County, Kansas