Butler County, Kansas, built many stone arch bridges. Over twenty stone bridges and culverts remain in the county. Butler’s influence was widespread, and played a decided role in the erection of stone bridges in other parts of the state, including Cowley County and Greenwood County. Butler County began building these bridges and culverts in earnest in 1894, and the last one built by the county, to the best of our knowledge, was erected in 1918. In the final tally, according to our extensive newspaper research, the county proper built about 60 stone arch bridges and culverts. The townships built numerous other stone culverts, with numbers estimated in the hundreds. We have found extensive newspaper documentation on these bridges, and in this series of posts will look into the characteristics of these stone bridges built by Butler County.
The Early Years 1882 – 1898
After several years of steady newspaper endorsement and recommendation of stone arch bridges, Butler County began building stone arch bridges in earnest in 1894, with the construction of the Stearns Branch Bridge. R. W. Robison of Whitewater Falls Stock Farm fame convinced the county commissioners to experiment and build a modestly sized stone arch bridge. The stone arch bridge proved a success, and the commissioners began to build stone bridges as a standard policy. These early bridges were generally small, and tended to have insufficient waterway. Nevertheless, they proved, for the most part, to be sturdy even under bad floods, and Butler County’s roads began to be improved, resulting in a great enthusiasm for stone arch bridges. Below is a list of these earliest stone arch bridges built by Butler County proper.
|1||Old El Dorado Mill Culvert||Let 1882||?||?||Exact location unclear.|
|2||Stearns Branch Whitewater River Bridge||Completed 1894||Eli Warren||20′ x1||First major stone arch bridge in county.|
|3||Bird Creek Bridge||Completed 1895||Walter Sharp||16′ x2|
|4||Peter Johnson Bridge||Completed 1895||Walter Sharp||33′ x1, 30′ x1||Second 30′ arch added in 1900.|
|5||Indianola Schoolhouse Bridge||Completed 1897||C. C. Jamison||30′ x1||Rebuilt in 1915. (#57)|
|6||Ellet Schoolhouse Bridge||Completed 1897||Walter Sharp||30′|
|This bridge was replaced in more recent years. The road it was on is now a ranch road.|
|7||Nuttle Bridge on Turkey Creek||Completed 1897||Abe Matheney||25′ x1||Oldest known extant stone bridge in county.|
|8||Whitewater River Bridge at Potwin||Completed 1897||Walter Sharp||40′ x1||Replaced with larger stone bridge in 1903. (#30)|
|9||North Branch Hickory Creek Bridge||Let 1897||Walter Sharp||8′ x2|
|10||Hickory Creek Bridge||Let 1897||Walter Sharp||24′ x1|
|11||Bloomington Hickory Creek Bridge||Completed 1898||Walter Sharp||40′ x1, 20′ x1||County built only main 40-foot arch, 20-foot arch by township.|
|12||Benton Whitewater Creek Bridge||Completed 1898||Walter Sharp||24′ x1|
|13||Douglas Muddy Creek Bridge||Completed 1898||Walter Sharp||25′ x1||As part of a road project in the 1920s, Muddy Creek was rerouted and the old channel filled in. The plan was to collapse the bridge into the old channel, so the bridge is likely no longer extant.|
A look at the table above reveals that, as a general rule, the span size was on average around 25′, with the largest spans both at 40′. The smallest was a double-arch bridge with both arches a mere 8 feet in span!
These early bridges received a lot of enthusiasm for, despite their small size, they proved to be better during floods than wooden bridges or even steel bridges would have been. They also couldn’t rot out, though there were still some scour problems, most notably with the Peter Johnson Bridge.
Locations of the Butler County Bridges
Below is a map showing the approximate locations of the stone arch bridges built by Butler County. The number on the table before each bridge has a corresponding number showing its location on the map.
By 1898, Butler County was steadily building stone arch bridges. In fact, the next year, Greenwood County commissioners would pay Butler County a visit, while Cowley would do the same in 1901. Butler’s bridge fame was going abroad, but, as yet, these early bridges were still often being built too small for the streams they were on. Eventually, this regular problem would be resolved, but not until more years went by.
Click here to see the next post in this series.