Cowley’s Grouse Creek Stone Arch Bridges Part 2: The Legacy

Neer Bridge

After the success of Dunkard Mill Bridge over the Walnut River, Cowley County, Kansas, began building stone arch bridges in earnest. Not surprisingly, many of these stone arch bridges were over Grouse Creek.

The Legacy

The Grouse Creek stone arch bridges proved a true boon to the local farmers along this fertile stream. Not only did they provide reliable transportation routes, but they gave the local farmers a chance to supplement their income. The typical way the Grouse Creek bridges were built was as follows: The stones were quarried within a mile or so of the bridge site from the large bluffs invariably following the creek. These could be hauled by the local farmers as they saw fit, the farmers being paid for the amount of stone they hauled. Furthermore, the farmers themselves typically built the bridges under the auspices of the builder (almost invariably Walter Sharp) and were compensated for their efforts. The local people simply loved the stone arch bridges, and took some degree of pride in their work.

While this method of building stone arch bridges generally held true throughout Cowley, the residents along Grouse Creek were especially vocal in their support of the county’s stone arch bridge projects, and felt the benefits they reaped more keenly. The stone arch bridges withstood the ravages of the treacherous Grouse Creek better than most other bridge types of the time.

The Grouse Creek Stone Bridges

An early Grouse Creek stone arch bridge that was a favorite was the 1903 Maurer Bridge No. 1, located about 6 miles or so north of Dexter. This bridge featured two dissimilar arches, one being a 50-foot span and the other being a 20- or 30-foot span.

Northern Cowley saw Smalley Bridge, a single fifty-foot-span stone bridge one mile south of the Butler/Cowley county line completed in 1909. This bridge was the smallest of the Grouse Creek bridges. Yet a 50-foot span was still quite a sizable structure even in Cowley.

A well-known Grouse Creek stone arch bridge is the double-arch Neer Bridge. What is not commonly known is that the current Neer Bridge is actually a 1916 replacement for the first Neer Bridge begun in 1913 and finished in 1914. The original Neer Bridge, built by A. Cook of Cambridge, collapsed in a rather dramatic fashion. The replacement by Walter Sharp is rather cleverly designed. A close look at the bridge shows that the bank ends of the arches appear to be sprung at the low-water level. This minimizes the amount of abutment needed to resist the horizontal thrust of the arches. However, at the pier, the arches are sprung some feet above low water. The result? The two arches balance each other on the pier, and pose less of an obstruction to the creek than they would if sprung lower. And, by springing the bank ends of the arches low, Walter Sharp minimized the amount of stone needed to resist the arches’ thrust. This design is brilliant, even if the result is mildly lopsided arches.

Neer Bridge
Neer Bridge.

The largest stone arch bridge ever built on Grouse Creek is the triple-arch Pudden Bridge near Dexter, originally known as the Kirk Bridge. The Pudden Bridge features three 50 foot arches. This bridge was an engineering experiment by Walter Sharp. Rather than “spring” the arches from the low-water level as was commonly the case, Walter Sharp increased the waterway by starting the arches atop moderately tall piers. The design of Pudden Bridge was probably a forerunner to the design of Neer Bridge.

While Pudden Bridge ranks as the largest stone arch bridge built on Grouse Creek, the standard stone arch bridge design for this waterway, even downstream of Pudden Bridge, was quite smaller. Several stone arch bridges were built with dual forty- to fifty- foot or so span arches. The Neer bridge mentioned above was one. Another such structure, judging from the substantial ruins, was also was located barely north of Dexter and has now been replaced with a low-water bridge.

Ruins of Unknown Stone Bridge Near Dexter
The ruins of an unidentified double-arch stone bridge near Dexter. Located just north of the 202nd Rd crossing of Grouse Creek, an island of masonry is visible from the road, while stones are strewn down the west bank, which is surmounted by a road barricade. On the opposite bank (not shown) more stones are visible, with, buried in the woods, a small line of stones that appear to be a fragment of an approach.

Some of the most famous of these double-arch Grouse Creek bridges in their day, however, were the three bridges of Silverdale. These bridges were the direct effort of local residents of the Silverdale area. By pleading for the first, paying for the second with their own money, and loaning the county money for the third, the people of Silverdale made their dream become a reality.

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