Cowley’s Grouse Creek Stone Arch Bridges Part 3: The Three Bridges of Silverdale

The FIrst Grouse Creek Crossing South of Silverdale

Silverdale in Cowley County, Kansas, was a rapidly growing town in 1909. The town was already famous for its limestone quarries, for the Silverdale limestone had a reputation for durability. As is common for growing towns, good roads became a keenly felt want, and an important road for Silverdale and the local residents of the area was the road to Oklahoma. Silverdale, being but a few miles north of the Oklahoma/Kansas border, has a short road which runs south out of the town into Oklahoma. Here too, in this area, Grouse Creek makes some gentle, wide bends before emptying into the Arkansas River. However, these graceful meandering bends of Grouse Creek create some minor difficulties. For the road out of Silverdale to reach Oklahoma in a reasonably direct path, it must cross the Grouse three times.

The First Stone Arch Bridge of Silverdale

The people of Silverdale wanted a bridge rather badly in 1909. Expressing their desire and need for a bridge, the people of Silverdale convinced the Cowley County commissioners to build a stone bridge at the first Grouse Creek crossing south of town. This location was known as the Irons Ford, after a resident of the area. In October 1909, the Cowley County commissioners awarded the contract for the new bridge to Abe Matheney of Butler County fame. The new bridge was a double arch stone bridge, with both arches being roughly 40 feet in span. Abe Matheney was no newcomer to Cowley County. His first stone arch bridge in Cowley was located south of Rock spanning Rock Creek. Though this bridge no longer exists, one abutment is visible barely west of US 77’s Rock Creek crossing when the water is low. His work on this bridge was so excellent that the Cowley commissioners requested that he continue to bid on Cowley bridge work. This he did do, being later awarded the contract for a bridge over Dutch Creek at Floral (demolished in the 1990s) and, of course, the Silverdale Bridge.

Abe Matheney
Abraham Matheney. (Photo from the June 23, 1908 edition of the El Dorado Daily Republican.)

It was only a matter of months before the first Silverdale bridge was completed, though it cannot exactly be said the job had gone smoothly. Early in 1910, as the bridge was nearing completion, Abe Matheney had a mishap on the unfinished bridge. While working on the top of the bridge, Abe Matheney had the misfortune to fall off the top of the bridge into the stream below, injuring his leg severely. Though at first it was thought that Abe Matheney had crushed his leg, it turned out it was just severely bruised, though Abe Matheney had to hobble around with crutches for some time afterwards.

The first Silverdale Bridge was accepted by the county in April 1910. However, the people of Silverdale wanted two more bridges to complete the road. As can be seen from a map, the road from Silverdale to Oklahoma (141st road) after crossing Grouse Creek the first time continues for only about a mile or so before hitting the Grouse yet again. The county did not have the money to build any more bridges for Silverdale at that time, even though the township had already paid a decent sum of money to complete the approaches of the first stone bridge. To make the road completely useful, though, two more bridges were needed, and the people of Silverdale had an idea how to get them built. Knowing that for the first bridge to be fully useful two more were needed, the people of Silverdale did not wait, but set out to find a way to have their needs met.

The FIrst Grouse Creek Crossing South of Silverdale
In this area, the first of the three stone arch bridges of Silverdale was built. It is now public land in the Kaw Wildlife Area. The current bridge can be seen in the photograph.

Warren Bridge

A prominent citizen named Jim Warren of the Silverdale area had a solution to offer towards getting another Grouse Creek crossing at Silverdale, near his own place. Jim Warren lived near the Oklahoma border south of the third Grouse Creek crossing, the one closest to Oklahoma. Jim Warren was a well-known cattleman, and an accomplished roper, who, apparently, even successfully roped a wildcat once. Jim Warren’s proposition to the county commissioners was simple. Cowley did not have the money to build another stone arch bridge immediately, though, presumably, they could later. Warren proposed to loan the county the money needed to build a stone arch bridge at the last crossing. Jim Warren’s loan would be for a period of two years, and he would charge no interest. That way the county could build the bridge immediately without spending any more of the current year’s money and without worrying about interest. The county commissioners agreed with this plan and, taking out a loan from Jim Warren, they built another double-arch stone bridge. This bridge consisted of two fourty-five-foot arches, and the contract was awarded to Charles Sharp early in April 1910. This bridge, not surprisingly, was known as Warren Bridge, in honor of Jim Warren. Charles Sharp, the builder, was a brother of the famous Walter Sharp. Often working with Walter Sharp, Charles Sharp nevertheless occasionally took on his own contracts. The Warren Bridge was accepted by the county in August 1910.

Sterling Bridge

Silverdale was looking good as far as bridges were concerned, but to complete the link between Abe Matheney’s bridge and the Warren Bridge to be built, one more bridge was needed at the middle Grouse Creek crossing south of Silverdale. If this middle bridge was built, it would be a huge boon to the town of Silverdale, and an aid to its growth by allowing unrestricted travel to the town from the south. The people of Silverdale decided it was of great value to them and their community to have this second bridge. To achieve this end, therefore, the people of Silverdale pooled their money, and arranged to have this last link over the Grouse built by private subscription. The bridge was to be built by Abe Matheney but was to be patterned closely after the Warren Bridge’s design. The bridge was known as Sterling Bridge, after the name of a local land owner of the time. This bridge was completed successfully, so that, by the time the year 1910 had ended, Silvedale had a complete link to the south via the three stone arch bridges of Silverdale.

Abutment of Sterling Bridge
Part of one abutment of the stone Sterling Bridge still remains clearly visible in the Kaw Wildlife Area, near the current bridge.

Grouse Creek Puts the Silverdale Bridges to the Test

Grouse Creek is a treacherous stream, prone to dramatic flash floods. The real test of the bridges of Silverdale came during two dramatic floods, one in 1912 and one in 1922.

The 1912 flood was an alarming one at Silverdale. The trouble the stone arch bridges had to face was debris and insufficient waterway. The arches of the Silverdale bridges were rather small. The waterway of these bridges would have been fairly comparable to the Neer Bridge north of Cambridge. As can be seen from this, the Silverdale bridges at the mouth of Grouse Creek were comparable to some of the bridges towards the middle and upper portions of Grouse Creek. During the April 1912 flooding, the three bridges of Silverdale were put to a strenuous test. Debris lodged on the first bridge, but the people of Silverdale did not propose to stand idly by. Armed with poles, the people of Silverdale worked hard to save the bridge and, at last, by the morning of the receding of the flood, succeeded in breaking free the driftwood piled against the bridge. The Sterling Bridge did not fair so well. Debris was not the only problem this bridge had to face; it was also being undermined. When the flood was over, part of the pier had been undermined and part of at least one of the arches collapsed.

Sterling Bridge must have been repaired, for when the floods of 1922 came along the stone arch Sterling Bridge was again damaged. This time, debris piling on the bridge stripped off much of the spandrel walls, leaving the arches. However, the upper bridge and Warren Bridge survived without damage. As Walter Sharp observed in an article written for The Wichita Daily Eagle in 1922, the damage to Sterling Bridge was of a kind easily repaired. This 1922 flood was a real test not to be underestimated. According to Walter Sharp, the Grouse Creek valley received a foot of rain in one night. The devastation from this mighty torrent rushing down the creek drowned livestock, destroyed crops, and leveled just about anything in its path, but the stone arch bridges survived, even though a steel bridge also near Silverdale did not. Another account by someone who had been camping near Grouse Creek largely collaborated Walter Sharp’s account, adding “the water rose a foot or two every ten to fifteen minutes.”

Grouse Creek from Warren Bridge
A view of Grouse Creek from the top of the current Warren Bridge.

And so, in the end, the three stone arch bridges of Silverdale were a success in their day. These three bridges spanning Grouse Creek were important to the town of Silverdale. And, though gone, these bridges have left their mark. In fact, even today, the southernmost Grouse Creek bridge at Silverdale, even though now a large concrete and steel structure, is still known as Warren Bridge.

See the next post in this series.

See the previous post in this series.