By 1899, Butler County, Kansas, was building stone arch bridges in earnest. Already Butler County was receiving attention in the rest of the state for its stone bridges. In fact, the Greenwood County commissioners visited Butler County in the spring of 1899 for the purpose of seeing if they could go somewhere with stone arch bridges.
The Steel Bridge Problem
By 1899, the only reasonable type of bridge, besides stone, that was readily available to counties was the steel bridge. Steel bridges needed regular maintenance, and were expensive. The steel bridge companies held a sort of monopoly in Kansas, which monopoly various counties, with Butler County setting an example, eventually sought to break by building stone arch bridges. On October 24, 1899, The Walnut Valley Times ran an article announcing the completion of a stone arch bridge built by Walter Sharp over the Walnut River. In this article, they explained how the Butler County commissioners were not just building stone arch bridges, but were also using them as a tool to obtain affordable steel bridges. According to this article, Butler County commissioners simply warned the steel bridge manufacturers that, if the steel bridge companies would not give Butler a reasonable price, they would put in a stone bridge instead. This statement seems to be further confirmed by later articles written by Walter Sharp himself. By thus informing the steel bridge companies that the county was not dependent on them for bridges, Butler County was able to purchase steel bridges at a vastly lower price than most other counties.
Cowley County Commissioners Visit Butler
In 1901, Cowley County commissioners visited Butler County with the idea of seeing the potential of stone arch bridges. Cowley County was not having much luck with steel bridges, and stone seemed to be a way for Cowley to obtain permanent, affordable bridges. After viewing Butler County’s work, the Cowley commissioners then went to Greenwood County to see the work Greenwood had done along the same lines. Pleased with what they saw, Cowley County began building the first of a long line of stone arch bridges. At this point, Walter Sharp began to concentrate his efforts in Cowley County. Other contractors in Butler became more competitive as well, and Walter Sharp gradually ceased to build the majority of the stone bridges in Butler County.
1899 – 1903
From 1899 to 1903 Butler County began to build their bridges larger. Though not entirely standardized, the county commissioners recognized the need for building their stone arch bridges larger in order to prevent washouts. In 1900, the 1895 Peter Johnson Bridge received a second, 30-foot arch. Also, the 40-foot 1897 Whitewater River Bridge was replaced with a 50 foot span in 1903. The new bridges tended to be larger, though it was a little later before Butler County began consistently building sufficiently large stone bridges. The Walz Ford Bridge, for instance, was still too small for its stream, and is now high and dry. The Ellis Bridge over the Walnut River was also too small, and in 1906 a second full-size span was added, replacing a 16 foot span which, apparently, was tacked on later.
1899 – 1903 Butler County Stone Bridges
Here are the stone arch bridges built by Butler County proper in the 1899 – 1903 period. For the earlier bridges from the 1882 – 1898 period (# 1 – 13), see the first post in this series.
|14||Wilson Bridge||Completed 1899||Walter Sharp||36′ x1||Extant. Bridge was greatly refurbished by the county in mid-2021.|
|15||Lincoln Township West Branch Walnut River Bridge||Let 1899||Abe Matheney||25′ x1|
|16||El Dorado & Lincoln township line West Branch Walnut River Bridge||Let 1899||Walter Sharp||36′ x1|
|17||Four Mile Creek Bridge||Completed 1899||Abe Matheney||36′ x1||Extant, but is/was scheduled for reconstruction in 2025. Reported as collapsed several decades ago, the bridge has been heavily altered with concrete.|
|18||Douglass Slough Bridge||Let 1899||Owen Jones||12′ x1||No trace of the bridge or the slough it spanned are obvious; it is possible the structure is intact but buried.|
|19||Walz Ford Bridge||Completed 1900||Walter Sharp||18′ x2||Extant, but high and dry. One side of the bridge is buried while the other is still visible.|
|20||Sycamore Springs Bridge||Completed 1900||Abe Matheney||36′ x1||Extant.|
|21||Plum Grove & Milton township line Henry Creek Bridge||Let 1901||Walter Sharp||40′ x1|
|22||Polecat Creek Bridge||Completed 1901||C. C. Jamison||24′ x1||Extant. Only Butler County stone arch bridge listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Bridge was extensively damaged by flooding in recent years but has been excellently restored.|
|23||Gillion Creek Bridge||Let 1901||Abe Matheney||22′ x1||Extant.|
|24||Bloomington Muddy Creek Bridge||Completed 1902||C. C. Jamison||30′ x1|
|25||Ellis Bridge||Completed 1902||Walter Sharp||36′ x2||Extant. The township helped pay for the bridge. Originally a single-arch bridge, the bridge has seen several modifications, and was largely rebuilt in 1906 by Abe Matheney, who added the second full-sized arch. A cantilevered concrete slab has been added to the bridge, allowing it to accommodate a two-lane blacktop. It looks like a concrete bridge from the road, but the stonework is clearly visible below.|
|26||Glencoe Township Little Walnut River Bridge||Let 1902||Abe Matheney||30′ x1||Replaced in 1976.|
|27||Brainerd Bridge||Completed 1903||C. C. Jamison||24′ x1||Extant, but abandoned and on private property.|
|28||Ligget Ford Bridge||Completed 1903||C. C. Jamison||30′ x1||Extant.|
|29||Brownlow Bridge||Let 1903||Abe Matheney||30′ x1|
|30||Potwin Whitewater River Bridge||Completed 1903||Walter Sharp||50′ x1||Replacing an 1897 stone arch bridge (#8), this stone arch bridge had the longest span built by Butler County proper. It collapsed completely in 1915 immediately after a car crossed it, and its failure appears to have played a part in Butler County’s later move away from stone arch bridge construction.|
As one will notice from the table above, Walter Sharp was slowly fading out of Butler County stone arch bridge building. Also interesting is the fact that a surprising number of these later bridges still remain.
The Locations of the Stone Arch Bridges Built By Butler County.
Below is a map showing, to the best of our knowledge, the stone arch bridges built by Butler County proper. For a descriptive list of the earlier bridges (#1 – #13), see the previous post of this series.
By 1903, Butler County had finally settled into a routine of consistently building bridges large enough to prevent regular flood damage. Furthermore, the county’s successful erection of numerous stone arch bridges had already influenced other Kansas counties to follow suit, most notably Cowley. As time went on, Butler County would continue to improve its techniques as the county reached its pinnacle years of stone arch bridge construction.
Click here to see the first post in this series.
Click here to see the next post in this series.