Stone Arch Bridges of Butler County, Kansas: Builders and Locations Part 3

Minos West Ford Bridge

By 1904, Butler County, Kansas, had already built a large number of stone arch bridges. Furthermore, the county’s success in this regard had prompted other counties in the state to follow suit. However, a subtle trend was taking place away from stone in favor of concrete in Kansas. One notable example of this was actually in Cowley County, where Walter Sharp, who had already risen to fame in Butler County as a prominent stone arch bridge builder, built the Bucher Bridge. The Bucher Bridge, which is still extant, is a simple concrete arch structure, completed in 1905. In design, it is almost identical to a stone arch bridge, only made of concrete as opposed to stone. Butler County also built some concrete arch bridges around this timeframe. As time went on, concrete bridges became more popular, particularly when the concrete slab bridge came into vogue. In fact, Walter Sharp himself became a promoter of first concrete arch bridges and then concrete slab bridges, building quite a few bridges of both types. Concrete bridges could be built quickly, required less skill to make than stone bridges, and were more enduring than steel bridges. Hence, over time, concrete replaced stone altogether, especially as concrete pouring methods grew simpler and cheaper. That said, some of these early concrete bridges were failures, particularity Walter Sharp’s slab bridges, which tended to disintegrate in a few years. Later on, Walter Sharp began advocating stone bridges heavily again, stating that the slab bridges were failures.

Butler County Stone Bridges: 1904 – 1907

Although concrete was already becoming a more and more recognized option in Butler County for bridge construction in the 1904 – 1907 era, the county still built a few stone arch bridges in this timeframe, including some of its most substantial and well-built structures. As an example, the spectacular Minos West Ford Bridge located south of Leon was built in about six months for $900 by Butler County, and even to this day is still in outstanding condition, carrying a one-lane road without weight restrictions. Below is a list of the stone arch bridges built in this period. Beginning around this time, bids were often advertised for either a stone or a concrete bridge. Because of this, there is some increased potential for errors in the list below; there may have been more stone bridges built than shown or, alternatively, there is a slight chance that a listed stone bridge could have actually been concrete. That said, we have done extensive research, and this list should prove to be highly accurate.

31Wildcat Creek BridgeLet 1904Joseph Sharp30′ x1
32H. A. Potter BridgeCompleted 1904C. C. Jamison30′ x1Location in El Dorado Lake; satellite imagery suggests that the bridge is gone, having been replaced by a concrete structure before the inundation.
33DeWar BridgeCompleted 1905C. C. Jamison26′ x1
34Piper BridgeLet 1905C. C. Jamison20′ x1
35Union Township sections 15 and 16 Rock Creek BridgeLet 1905C. C. Jamison40′ x1Extant.
36Minos West Ford BridgeCompleted 1906C. C. Jamison40′ x1Extant.
37Nelson BridgeLet 1906C. C. Jamison30′ x1The bridge site is under Santa Fe Lake; the status of the bridge is unclear.
38Thomas Jefferson Smith BridgeLet 1906Abe Matheney20′ x1Extant.
39Sections 20, 21 Clifford Township May Branch Whitewater BridgeLet 1906Walter Sharp24′ x1
40North Main Street (El Dorado) West Branch Walnut River BridgeCompleted 1907Joseph SharpEither 40′ or 44′ spans; x2The county gave the city of El Dorado $2,000 dollars towards building this bridge; the city handled the contract and also paid for some of the structure. The Walnut Valley Times consistently stated that both arches were 44′ in span. The El Dorado Republican and the Butler County Democrat listed it as a double 40′ span bridge.
41Sections 4, 5 Plum Grove Township Whitewater River BridgeLet 1906?36′ x1
42Sections 10,15 Clifford Township May Branch Whitewater BridgeCompleted 1907C. C. Jamison36′ x1Extant. Some sources stated when it was completed that it was a double-arch bridge, but the original call for bids requested a single-arch bridge. The bridge, which is quite long, currently has one arch on the west side of the structure.
Stone arch bridges built by Butler County, Kansas, 1904 – 1907. 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.

Below are some photographs of the bridges shown in the table above.

Locations of the Stone Arch Bridges Built by Butler County

Below is a map showing all the stone arch bridges built by Butler County, to the best of our knowledge. Some of these bridges had changed by 1907; for instance the early Whitewater Bridge by Potwin (#8) had given way to a larger stone bridge (#30). Also, in 1906 the Ellis Bridge (#25) had been heavily modified by Abe Matheney and converted into a double-arch bridge with two 36′ spans; it was originally intended to be a single 36′ arch bridge. For a summary of the 1882 – 1898 stone bridges (#1 – #13) see the first post in this series. For a summary of the 1899 – 1903 stone bridges (#14 – #30) see the previous post of this series.

Stone arch bridge built by Butler County
A map showing the locations of the stone bridges built by Butler County, Kansas.

By 1907…

By 1907 stone arch bridges were already giving way to concrete bridges in Butler County. However, even though fewer stone arch bridges were being built, a new era was coming in Butler County stone bridge construction. C. W. Buskirk, Butler County’s new county engineer, would soon begin in earnest to design first-class stone arch bridges, which would be built to adequately meet the requirements of the locale and overcome some other problems with Butler’s early stone arch bridge designs.

Click here to see the previous post in this series.