As can be seen in our previous series of posts on the Grouse Creek stone arch bridges of Cowley County, Kansas, stone bridges on Grouse Creek were common. Most of the bridges built on this waterway are fairly well documented. However, there remains a stone arch bridge north of Dexter that we currently have been unable to find any definite information on.
It was a early winter day when we first made the discovery of this ruined stone bridge. We had been in the area before; for one thing, the road is a continuation of the road the stone arch bridge known as the “bridge north of Dexter” is located on. We’d been on the low-water bridge over Grouse Creek about a mile or so north of the town as well, but this was the first time we really noticed the island in the creek just upstream of the present crossing. This island was made of stone.
The island of stone is overgrown with grass, and covered in rubble, yet it is most certainly part of a bridge. When viewing it from the correct angles, one can even see courses of masonry still intact upon which various cut stones lie scattered. The island is the most obvious part of the bridge, but further looking reveals more. Cut stones lie strewn down the west bank of the creek. Atop the bank is an old road barricade.
On the left bank there are not many stones visible; however, in the woods a short line of stones overgrown with trees can be seen. These stones are laid like the approach for a stone bridge.
From the ruins, it would appear that this lost bridge was a double-arch stone bridge, the island being the remains of the pier.
These ruins very clearly suggest a stone arch bridge, yet why is there no obvious record of such a bridge? Furthermore, in 1922 Walter Sharp stated that there were 14 stone arch bridges on Grouse Creek. With some research one can discover 14 well-known stone arch bridges on Grouse Creek, and yet this one (which, by the way, brings the number to 15) is not among them. Could this bridge have been built after 1922? After 1922 stone arch bridges were simply no longer affordable; it was not until the Depression era that stone arch bridges were regularly built at all. Of course it is possible that a stone arch bridge or two could have been erected in this time period, but we currently have no evidence that this was the case in Cowley. Another possibility is that Walter Sharp misspoke; this seems rather improbable. However, in 1920 around the time the stone Maurer Bridge No. 2 was being built on Grouse Creek, Walter Sharp described what went on behind the scenes to get this bridge built. In his story, he described a conversation he had with commissioner Goforth. As Sharp wrote it:
“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.
This would suggest that there might have been 14 stone arch bridges on Grouse Creek before Maurer Bridge No. 2 was built. However, on September 8, 1922 (after the Maurer Bridge No. 2 was completed), a letter Walter Sharp wrote to the state engineer was published in The Wichita Eagle as part of a series of articles for the paper written by Sharp. In this letter Walter Sharp stated that there were 14 stone arch bridges on Grouse Creek. He reaffirmed this in the next article in the series which was published in The Wichita Eagle the following day:
“All of Cowley County had heavy rains this year. At Winfield nearly eight inches of rain fell in one night. The same night Grouse creek valley had a twelve inch rain….All these 14 stone arch bridges were from one to eight feet under water. All stood the test, except one stone arch next to the mouth and south of Silverdale.”From “Grafting in Kansas Road Building” by Walter Sharp, published in The Wichita Eagle, September 9, 1922.
So when was this lost stone bridge built? A look at a 1905 plat map shows that the bridge would likely have been called Bolton Bridge, based on the land owner, unless Mr. Bolton moved out before the bridge was built. In fact there was a Bolton Bridge, and a 1905 reference makes it clear that it had a wooden floor, so this version, at least, of the Bolton Bridge was not stone. To date we have found no records of the Bolton Bridge being replaced with a stone bridge, and thus this lost double-arch bridge remains a mystery. Any information our readers may have on this bridge will, as always, be appreciated. For a map with the location of the bridge see Cowley Grouse Creek Stone Arch Bridges Part 5: The Location of the Grouse Creek Stone Arch Bridges.