Stone Arch Bridges of Butler County, Kansas: Builders and Locations Part 1

Abe Matheney's 1897 Turkey Creek Bridge

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.

1Old El Dorado Mill CulvertLet 1882??Exact location unclear.
2Stearns Branch Whitewater River BridgeCompleted 1894Eli Warren20′ x1First major stone arch bridge in county.
3Bird Creek BridgeCompleted 1895Walter Sharp16′ x2
4Peter Johnson BridgeCompleted 1895Walter Sharp33′ x1, 30′ x1Second 30′ arch added in 1900.
5Indianola Schoolhouse BridgeCompleted 1897C. C. Jamison30′ x1Rebuilt in 1915. (#57)
6Ellet Schoolhouse BridgeCompleted 1897Walter Sharp30′
This bridge was replaced in more recent years. The road it was on is now a ranch road.
7Nuttle Bridge on Turkey CreekCompleted 1897Abe Matheney25′ x1Oldest known extant stone bridge in county.
8Whitewater River Bridge at PotwinCompleted 1897Walter Sharp40′ x1Replaced with larger stone bridge in 1903. (#30)
9North Branch Hickory Creek BridgeLet 1897Walter Sharp8′ x2
10Hickory Creek BridgeLet 1897Walter Sharp24′ x1
11Bloomington Hickory Creek BridgeCompleted 1898Walter Sharp40′ x1, 20′ x1County built only main 40-foot arch, 20-foot arch by township.
12Benton Whitewater Creek BridgeCompleted 1898Walter Sharp24′ x1
13Douglas Muddy Creek BridgeCompleted 1898Walter Sharp25′ x1As 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.
Stone arch bridges built by Butler County, Kansas, 1882 – 1898. The bridge number is used as a reference for the map below, and also gives the order the bridges were completed in, as far as we were able to determine. These numbers may be slightly inaccurate if several bridges were being built at about the same time and we were unable to find an exact completion date. Where we could not find an exact completion date, we based these numbers on when the bridge was begun as well as its relative size, and other newspaper references relating to its progress. (For example, the two 1897 bridges over Hickory Creek branches were let at the same time. We listed the North Branch Hickory Creek Bridge as likely completed first, as it was a smaller project; they would have been completed at very nearly the same time.)

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.

The downloadable map, showing the stone arch bridges that had were built by Butler County to the best of our knowledge. Red text means that the bridge is no longer extant, yellow text means that the status of the bridge is uncertain, and green text means that the bridge still exists. In each case a number is used to represent the bridge, which matches up with the bridge number on the bridge list table.

By 1898….

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.