Update on Stone Arch Bridges of Butler County, Kansas

NE160th Street Whitewater River Bridge

We have had to subtract a bridge from our list of the 20+ stone arch bridges of Butler County, Kansas. The 1910 Whitewater River Bridge on NW 160th Road is no longer in existence.

NE160th Street Whitewater River Bridge
The 1910 NW 160th Road Whitewater River Bridge before it was demolished. This photo was taken in 2019. It is worth mentioning at this point that, by mistake, we originally had the photos reversed for the 1906 NW 160th Road May Branch Whitewater River Bridge and this bridge on our Butler County stone bridge list. We have since corrected this error.

The 1910 Whitewater River Bridge was replaced as part of a reconstruction project that began in 2020 and was recently completed. This old bridge was built by C. C. Jamison during the pinnacle years of Butler County stone arch bridge building under county engineer Charles Buskirk. Unlike most of the bridges from this era, the 1910 Whitewater River Bridge had not handled the test of time very well. The old stone bridge was admittedly in a deteriorated state, which can be seen in the photo above of the downstream side of the bridge. On the upstream side of the bridge, a significant portion of the spandrel wall had been replaced with an interesting assortment of building materials. That said, it is still a little hard and a little sad to see a veteran of over a century go.

Further Scheduled Stone Arch Bridge Reconstructions in Butler County

There are two other stone arch bridges scheduled to be reconstructed according to the county. The two bridges in question are the 1899 Fourmile Creek Bridge near Andover on SW Tawakoni Road and the 1912 Hill Bridge over Dry Creek on SW Diamond Road near Augusta. This information can be found here: https://www.bucoks.com/DocumentCenter/View/366/2021-2025-Bridge-Project-Map-Bu-Co-Adopted.

The SW Tawakoni Road Fourmile Creek Bridge

The Fourmile Creek Bridge was built by Abe Matheney in 1899 and is one of Butler County’s earliest stone arch bridges. This bridge has obviously been rather badly battered by floods, this fate being a common one among the earliest stone arch bridges in Butler County. Later on, of course, Butler County improved their stone arch bridge designs due to repeated washouts.

Fourmile Creek Bridge
The Fourmile Creek Bridge near Andover. This bridge has largely been concreted over; as can be seen only half of the arch has its stones visible.

When we visited this bridge in 2019, it appeared solid enough, yet at the same time, seemed to consist of more concrete than stone. Though still somewhat picturesque, the bridge is far from its original form. It is presently scheduled to be reconstructed in 2025.

The 1912 Hill Bridge on Dry Creek

The 1912 Hill Bridge carries SW Diamond Road over Dry Creek. It is a massive single-arch bridge with a span (a Roman arch) of 40 feet. It was originally named after a local landowner. This bridge is, as far as can be determined, the only surviving stone arch bridge built by O. Markley in Butler County and, likely, all of Kansas. O. Markley was a prominent contractor from Augusta. He built numerous stone arch culverts around Augusta for the township, none of which are known to exist any longer, at the time of this writing.

Hill Bridge
1912 Hill Bridge over Dry Creek in 2019. The bridge has deteriorated since this time.

While the Hill Bridge still features much of its stonework, the bridge as a whole is heavily battered. Much of the upper stonework of the bridge has been dislodged by vehicle impacts, judging from appearances. This is probably related to the bridge’s narrow width. The action of the water below the bridge has taken a toll on the structure as well. The condition of the bridge is reflected by its weight limit, which is very low. The poor overall condition of this massive and interesting bridge is unfortunate, especially as it is the only remaining bridge by O. Markley. Still, who knows? If it is deemed worthwhile and can be done practically and safely, the county may still salvage this bridge; Butler County has already done incredible work on some of the county’s stone arch bridges. The Hill Bridge is presently scheduled to be reconstructed in 2022.

Conclusion

It is important to mention here that Butler County, Kansas, has been doing extensive and excellent repair work on the county’s stone arch bridges. Numerous examples of this can be seen across the county. An excellent example of such work is the restoration of the well-known Polecat Creek Bridge near Douglass. This bridge, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was extensively battered by flooding, yet the county did incredible work on it. This bridge was (and still is) a favorite with people who live near it. It is wonderful to see how thoroughly the county repaired it despite its problems. With salvaged displaced stones and new ones that were cut to replace lost originals, the Polecat Creek Bridge still remains remarkably true to its original form. Nor is the Polecat Creek Bridge the only Butler County stone bridge to receive special attention. On less-historic stone bridges, it is not uncommon to see a reconstructed stone curbing along the road, which helps keep the quaint appearance of the bridge, even if sections of it were replaced with concrete. Also, even after all these years, the 1902 Ellis Bridge is still in use, carrying a two-lane blacktop with the aid of a cantilevered slab. The modest 1901 Gillion Creek Bridge by Abe Matheney, located on a scantily used road, was recently threatened by a complete obstruction of logs. These logs are no longer in evidence. This year, the 1899 Dry Creek Bridge by Walter Sharp has been renovated is now in good operational condition. The main modifications to this old bridge was done by adding additional stonework, and was excellently carried out.

Polecat Creek Bridge
Polecat Creek Bridge: Probably the most well-known stone arch bridge in Butler County, Kansas.

It is always sad to see another stone arch bridge lost in the dust of history, yet it is worth pointing out that Butler County, obviously, does not make a rule of removing its stone bridges. The county has done a commendable job in keeping these scenic structures on the road as much as is practical and consistent with safety, and has even spent extra effort on those bridges that are favorites in the local community.