The oldest remaining stone arch bridge in Butler County, Kansas, to the best of our knowledge, is the modest 1897 Turkey Creek Bridge south of El Dorado. The 1897 Turkey Creek Bridge was erected by Abe Matheney. This simple stone bridge has a single span of 25 feet, and still actively carries SW 70th Street over the stream.
Early Butler County Stone Bridges
Though townships in Butler County had already begun a massive campaign installing stone arch culverts on the roads, the first major stone arch bridge built by the county proper was the Stearns Branch Whitewater Bridge near Towanda erected in 1894 by Eli Warren. There had been at least one earlier stone arch culvert built by the county (see A Very Early Stone Arch Culvert in Butler County), but there was not any real interest by the county board in stone arch bridges until the success of the Stearns Branch Bridge. Once the Stearns Branch Bridge was completed, the county began to build stone arch bridges in earnest, its next bridge being a small stone arch bridge over Bird Creek near El Dorado in 1895. After the Bird Creek Bridge came the infamous Peter Johnson Bridge, then a bridge over Dry Creek on the Augusta/Bruno township line. After the Dry Creek Bridge the county erected a small stone arch bridge over Rock Creek in Clay Township, and then the 1897 Turkey Creek Bridge. This means that this bridge was among the first stone arch bridges built by the county proper.
The builder of the 1897 Turkey Creek Bridge was an El Dorado stone mason named Abe Matheney. Abe Matheney was a Civil War veteran, and an early advocate of stone bridges for Butler County. At the close of the year 1889, Abe Matheney presented plans for a generic stone arch bridge design that could be scaled to span any stream in Butler County. Though the Butler County board did not exactly jump on his idea, Abe Matheney was awarded some contracts for building stone arch culverts for the city of El Dorado shortly thereafter.
Despite being an early voice in Butler County proclaiming the merits of stone arch bridges, Abe Matheney did not win any major stone arch bridge contracts from the county until the 1897 Turkey Creek Bridge. After he completed this bridge, Abe Matheney continued to build stone arch bridges, not only in Butler County, but also in Cowley County (see Cowley’s Grouse Creek Stone Arch Bridges Part 3: The Three Bridges of Silverdale). Abe Matheney kept building stone arch bridges until he passed away in 1912.
The 1897 Turkey Creek Bridge Today
The 1897 Turkey Creek Bridge has survived the passage of time remarkably well, and is a credit to Abe Matheney’s work. The bridge is in excellent condition, though scour aprons have been added to protect the foundations. The bridge is composed of relatively thin stones. Accordingly, turning the arch appears to have been relatively easy and carried out well. The bridge has carried the road for over 120 years, and looks like it could continue to do so for another century or more.