Cowley’s Grouse Creek Stone Arch Bridges Part 4: The Later Years

Main Arch Fromm Bridge

By the 1910s, stone was giving way to concrete in Kansas. While various counties still did build stone bridges here and there, the general trend was concrete. Even in Cowley there was a subtle shift from the popular stone bridges to the more simply constructed stone bridges. Ironically, Walter Sharp, the pioneer stone arch bridge builder, aided in shifting to concrete with his advocating and demonstrating of his patented concrete slab bridge design. One advantage of concrete slab bridges is the simple fact that they tend to obstruct a stream much less than an arch does. Also a significant advantage of concrete bridges is the fact that they are relatively easy to build. However, though they were the beginning of a distinct shift to concrete, the concrete slab bridges Walter Sharp built proved not to be as much of a success as he hoped:

“I think I know what made them fall. Not a reinforcing rod had failed. There were a million cracks and the bars were almost loose in the concrete. Vibration caused from heavy trucks and cars had done its work, and it will get them all.”

From “Tyranny in Kansas Road Building,” by Walter Sharp, which was pulished in The Wichita Eagle, September 10, 1922.

Nevertheless, Walter Sharp’s concrete bridges were an important part of southern Kansas’s transition to concrete bridges. Furthermore, other builders were having success with concrete slab and arch bridges, and could often build them for less money than a stone bridge would cost. Stone was becoming obsolete, but Cowley continued to build stone arch bridges periodically for some time, including over Grouse Creek.

Fromm Bridge

Of the later stone arch bridges in Cowley County, one rather mysterious example is Fromm Bridge, which spans Grouse Creek north of Cambridge. Very early in 1917 the county appropriated money to build a reinforced concrete bridge at the Fromm Ford where Fromm Bridge is located. The original bid advertisement for this bridge in 1917 also specified a concrete bridge. However, very shortly afterwards, the bid advertisement was changed to call for bids for a “masonry” bridge. Shortly after the time for the county to receive bids expired, the contract was advertised again, still for a masonry bridge. Information on Fromm Bridge is rather sparse beyond this, but it is likely that this contract refers to the Fromm Bridge which stands today.

Main Arch Fromm Bridge
The main arch of Fromm Bridge.

There is another mystery associated with Fromm Bridge: namely the presence of a partially buried arch in the western approach. Grouse Creek is spanned by the bridge’s main 50-foot arch. However, some distance from the creek proper is another, smaller arch, which was filled in by the county in more recent years. A look along the roadbed of the bridge shows two “humps” over each arch. It is possible that both arches were built as part of the original bridge, but the appearance of the bridge as a whole tends to suggest otherwise, especially as the masonry between the two sections does not appear very similar. Furthermore, the buried arch is located quite away from the main channel, and is not immediately adjoining the main arch as is normal for a double-arch bridge. It appears that the second arch is an “add-on.” The question is, Why the second arch? To date, we have found no satisfactory answers from the old newspapers to this question, though we did find a rather interesting story told by Walter Sharp about plans to build a stone arch bridge in 1918 in two parts rather like Fromm Bridge appears to have been.

Partly Buried Fromm Bridge Arch
The smaller, partly buried arch of Fromm Bridge is located in the western approach of the bridge.

The 1918 Stone Arch Bridges and Plans

In 1918 plans were made for at least two stone arch bridges over Grouse Creek. One, known as Rivers Bridge or, alternatively, Sphar Bridge, was built on 42nd Road north of Cambridge, and stood for only a few years before succumbing to floods. The other bridge, known as Maurer Bridge No. 2, was not built right away due to trouble with the state regulations.

The Two Maurer Bridges

Maurer Bridge No. 2 was built over Grouse Creek on an important county road. Though Maurer Bridge No. 2 is now gone, Maurer Bridge No. 2 was a well-built, 60 foot span stone-arch bridge. Maurer Bridge No. 2 was located very close to Maurer Bridge No. 1, being located downstream about a quarter of a mile south of the earlier Maurer Bridge. Maurer Bridge No. 1, built in 1903, was located approximately where north-south going 251st Road crosses Grouse Creek. Maurer Bridge No. 2, completed in 1921, was located approximately at the township line between Dexter and Windsor townships on an east-west road.

The Story of Maurer Bridge No. 2: The Background

Most of the story of Maurer Bridge No. 2 is from Walter Sharp’s own account published in The Wichita Eagle on October 26, 1920. This account was part of a series of articles written for The Wichita Eagle entitled, “A Story About Good Roads,” which expressed Walter Sharp’s view on road building in Kansas.

Kansas had various laws targeted at so-called “bridge trusts” which were manipulating the systems in various counties throughout the state to corner bridge contracts, building shoddy bridges all the while, reportedly frequently with the underhanded aid and approval of the county officials. As Kansas began cracking down on this behavior, state road and bridge laws were expanded and altered. Interestingly, according to Walter Sharp’s account published on October 25, 1920, in The Wichita Eagle, he was essentially considered, by the State Engineer of the time, as part of one of these “bridge trusts” that were working in Cowley County:

“[State Engineer Gearhart] spent five minutes telling us about good roads and then made the startling announcement that Cowley County was getting robbed right and left by a man by the name of Sharp; why said he: they do the rottenest kind of work and the plans for these bridges are as rotten as the work.”

From “A Story About Good Roads” by Walter Sharp, published in The Wichita Eagle, October 25, 1920.

Walter Sharp went on to state that Gearhart though that the people of Cowley County should not let their county board get by with letting Walter Sharp build these bridges.

At the time of Maurer Bridge No. 2, the county officials of the time preferred not to have to have the state go over the new bridge’s plans due to financial reasons; the necessary plans and standard of work were costly. However, when Maurer Bridge No. 2 was first planned, it was known that this bridge was going to have to be fairly large to accommodate the creek. Furthermore, Kansas laws were written such that the state engineer needed to approve the plans for any bridge which cost more than $2000. Since Maurer Bridge No. 2 was certainly going to cost more than $2000, the county board tried to come up with a way around the need for state approval.

The Story of Maurer Bridge No. 2: To Avoid State Regulation

The trouble with Maurer Bridge No. 2 was that it needed to be reasonably large, which meant expensive. It seemed very likely that the final structure would cost more than $2000 dollars, which meant that the state would need to review the plans. Indeed, Walter Sharp concluded it would cost around $4000 to build a stone arch bridge patterned after the nearby Maurer Bridge No. 1, despite the fact that Maurer Bridge No. 1, built roughly 15 years earlier, had cost less than $2000.

To circumvent the law requiring the state to review the plans for a bridge which cost more than $2000, an idea was proposed for use with Maurer Bridge No. 2. In Walter Sharp’s words:

“Nearly two years ago our County Board decided to build this bridge that would give an outlet to the county seat for all the territory East of Grouse Creek, between Cambridge and Dexter….The first plan suggested was to have Mr. Bradley make plans for a 50 foot stone arch and let it for $2000 with a private understanding that another 20 or 30 foot arch would be required to finish the bridge, which would be let for $2000 but after serious though the Board thought that wouldn’t hold water.”

From “A Story About Good Roads” by Walter Sharp, published in The Wichita Eagle, October 26, 1920.

The plan eventually settled on was to build Maurer Bridge No. 2 as a duplicate of Maurer Bridge No. 1. Maurer Bridge No. 1 was a likely inspiration for Maurer Bridge No. 2, being close by, and the people of the area had absolutely no complaints about this stone arch bridge. To be sure, doing this would mean that the bridge would cost more than the state’s $2000 limit, but the county board was hoping that this would still work out:

“While the Board was trying to find a way around the State Engineer’s office, Link Branson came in and said don’t try to build us a better bridge than the stone arch on the North and South road (built 16 years ago,) build us one just like it. The County Board asked me what I could duplicate the bridge I built for the county 16 years for, for this bridge is of stone, two arches one 50 foot and one 30 foot span. In 1904 Cowley County paid me $1760 for building this bridge. I considered that wages and material had advanced 2 1/2 times: hence my bill would be $4000 for a duplicate bridge. This plan suited the Board and they ordered Mr. Bradley to make a copy of plans from the Bridge Record and the County Clerk advertised for bids. The County Board knew that this wasn’t a strictly legal proceeding, but felt sure it would result in a big saving for the County….When the time arrived for letting the bridge, I was there with a bid for $4400 and the Board was ready to let the job and take a chance on it being all right, but the County Attorney said no, there was nothing doing the proceedings were illegal and contrary to law. The plans must have the o. k. of the State Engineer.”

From “A Story About Good Roads” by Walter Sharp, published in The Wichita Eagle, October 26, 1920.

The Story of Maurer Bridge No. 2: The Construction of the Bridge

To save money, Walter Sharp stated, the Cowley County Board instructed county surveyor Bradley to draw the plans for a stone arch bridge which the state engineer would approve. To do this, surveyor Bradley consulted the state specifications and requirements for such work, and from this drafted out his own plans, adding safety margin to help ensure that the State Engineer would approve. Some time later, surveyor Bradley succeeded in getting plans which met the state’s approval. However, new complications arose: Not only was the cost of the bridge higher than before ($6500 vs. $4400) Walter Sharp, the only bidder at all, didn’t even want the job, as he told commissioner Goforth. In Sharp’s words:

“The day of letting arrived, the only bidder present was the writer and I didn’t want the job and I told Mr. Goforth so. I told him if our County Board and County Engineer had any authority in the matter $6500 was a good price for the work, if under State supervision where an inspector sat on the bank and gave me full directions what to do and armed with authority from Topeka, that the estimate was entirely too low and I begged to be excused. This was like a thunder bolt from a clear sky to Mr. Goforth: he explained to me his disappointment; he said he had worked nearly two years to get this bridge for his people.”

From “A Story About Good Roads” by Walter Sharp, published in The Wichita Eagle, October 26, 1920.

Walter Sharp did end up building the bridge, with the understanding that in case of trouble commissioner Goforth would be with him. The people of eastern Cowley wanted a stone bridge, and that was what commissioner Goforth intended to have built:

“There are 14 stone bridges on Grouse Creek and the people of Eastern Cowley don’t want any other kind and if I didn’t build him a stone bridge who would?”

From “A Story About Good Roads” by Walter Sharp, published in The Wichita Eagle, October 26, 1920.
Maurer Bridge No. 2
A Photo of Maurer Bridge No. 2 under construction which appeared in the September 8, 1922 edition of The Wichita Eagle.

Maurer Bridge No. 2 was completed in 1921 at a cost of $6500. The workmanship on this bridge was outstanding, and it was successful. This was one of the last stone arch bridges Cowley County built, and likely the last stone arch bridge to be built on Grouse Creek. The road no longer crosses Grouse Creek at the site of Maurer Bridge No. 2, skirting the creek until it joins the north-south road, eliminating the need for a bridge altogether. And, at least in winter conditions, ruins of Maurer Bridge No. 2 are clearly visible from the road as it skirts the creek.

See the next (and last) post in this series.

See the previous post in this series.