The Building of the Stone Arch Bridges of Butler County, Kansas — Part 2

Sycamore Springs Bridge

The Sharp brothers became important in Butler County stone arch bridge building. With the construction of the double-arch Bird Creek Bridge that they built, the Sharp brothers became a fixture in Butler bridge building. What they brought to the table was economy — their bridges were comparable to steel bridges in cost, yet usually lasted much longer. Walter Sharp’s exact connection with the Sharp brothers is unclear. It is clear that Walter Sharp was far more prominent than the other Sharps. The newspapers tended to use his name was used rather interchangeably with the “Sharp Brothers” company.

Early Butler Bridges Built by the Sharp Brothers

The Bird Creek Bridge in 1895 was the first of many bridges built by the Sharps in Butler. Another bridge built by Walter Sharp became one of the most famous in Butler County: the Peter Johnson Bridge, which spanned the Little Walnut River near Leon. With a span of over 30 feet, the Peter Johnson bridge was large, but its fame may have been due to other factors….

An annual picnic was held to celebrate the completion of this large stone arch bridge. The picnics featured music and recitations, and were rather popular.

The bridge meanwhile received several rounds of repair and modifications. One of the problems with the Peter Johnson Bridge was that it was too small for the river. A second arch was added to remedy this. However, the bridge also suffered from scour, as it was not founded on bedrock. A stone apron was added to the bridge to try to protect it.

Still, the Peter Johnson Bridge was famous. The annual bridge picnics continued to be held until the original reason for the picnic was apparently forgotten.

Walter Sharp Builds a Record Span in Butler

1897 saw the construction of a 40-foot-span stone arch bridge over the Whitewater River by Walter Sharp. This bridge had, at the time, the longest span stone arch bridge in Butler.

A few years later, however, it was damaged in a flood. The trouble was insufficient waterway, so Walter Sharp built a 50-foot-span stone arch bridge to replace it. This 50-foot-span bridge became the largest arch span in Butler.

Walter Sharp’s Hickory Creek Bridge

In 1898, the largest stone arch bridge in Butler County was built, again by Walter Sharp. Spanning Hickory Creek where Haverhill Road now is, this double-arch bridge consisted of one 40-foot-span arch built by the county, and one 20-foot-span arch built by the township.

Walter Sharp by this time was well known, and Butler’s most prominent stone arch bridge builder. The June 17, 1898, edition of the Walnut Valley Times, after describing the Hickory Creek Bridge, went on to say about Sharp:

Mr. Sharp has established an enviable reputation as a builder and contractor, and “built by Sharp” is a guarantee of excellence and honesty. The Board of Commissioners showed rare good judgment in placing the contract, for not only have they saved money to the county, but have secured a permanent and substantial improvement.

Walter Sharp's Hickory Creek Bridge
The double-arch bridge Walter Sharp built over Hickory Creek. This bridge was at the time the largest stone arch bridge in Butler County. This photograph is from the September 29, 1899, edition of the El Dorado Republican.

Other Stone Bridge Builders in Butler

Abe Matheney

While Walter Sharp built many stone arch bridges at this time in Butler County history, he was not the only builder. Abe Matheney was still building bridges, including:

  • Bridge over Turkey Creek near El Dorado in 1897.
  • Bridge over Four Mile Creek near Andover in 1899.
  • Bridge over the Walnut River near Cassoday. Construction began in 1899.

All three of the above-mentioned bridges are still on the active road network.

Abe Matheney's 1899 Walnut River Bridge
Abe Matheney’s 1899 Sycamore Springs Bridge. This bridge is arguably among the most scenic stone arch bridges in Butler County. It is used to carry a minimum-maintenance road over the Walnut River.

C. C. Jamison

Around this time a new builder entered the scene as well. C. C. Jamison was a promising young man. His first big job was that of foreman over the construction of a power plant in El Dorado. While he had already built at least one stone culvert, his first stone arch bridge built for the county spanned Dry Creek near Augusta. It was completed in 1897. While it was not long before this bridge was damaged by floods, C. C. Jamison would nevertheless rise to become Butler’s most prolific stone bridge builder.

Butler County’s Aggressive Stone Arch Culvert Construction

During this period of Butler history, an incredible number of stone arch culverts were built. These miniature stone bridges began to dot Butler landscape. It is safe to say we will never know how many were built, for the records and locations of these culverts tends to be rather vague. Suffice it to say, Butler County was using stone for bridges at an unprecedented rate. It is entirely possible that some of these culverts still remain, undetected, even now.

115th Whitewater River Bridge
This stone arch culvert over the Whitewater River near Potwin is representative of some of Butler’s early stone culverts. This culvert was built per order of Plum Grove Township (not Butler County proper) in 1907. Obviously, this culvert is much too small to carry the river when it is flooding. Nevertheless, it still serves as a sort of low-water bridge, and carries some road traffic.

Walter Sharp’s and Butler County’s Reputation for Stone Bridges Spreads

By the late 1890s, Butler was receiving some attention for their stone bridges. The Greenwood County commissioners investigated Butler’s stone bridges around this time. The Greenwood commissioners were so pleased with what they saw that they awarded Walter Sharp the contract to build a quadruple-arch bridge over Fall River near Eureka. This quadruple-arch bridge, known as the Gleason Ford Bridge, was said to be the largest stone arch bridge in the state at the time.

Despite Greenwood County’s newfound enthusiasm for stone bridges, with a resultant increase in stone bridge contracts, Walter Sharp still built in Butler County. However, between 1901 and 1902, things began to change, and not just in Butler. Russell County had completed its first stone arch bridge over Paradise Creek, but this bridge had proven rather expensive. Communicating the problem to Walter Sharp, they would soon award him the contract for a stone bridge over Big Creek. (Both the Paradise Bridge and the Big Creek Bridge in Russell are still in active road use.)

Most significantly, at about this time, visitors from Cowley County arrived in Butler to see the county’s stone bridges before looking at Greenwood’s new stone bridges. These visitors, who were the Cowley County commissioners, were looking for a solution to Cowley’s bridge problems. Walter Sharp offered them a solution.

See The Building of the Stone Arch Bridges of Butler County, Kansas — Part 3

See The Building of the Stone Arch Bridges of Butler County, Kansas — Part 1