Stone Arch Bridges of Butler County, Kansas: Builders and Locations Part 4

NW 130th Street Henry Creek Bridge

Before Butler County ceased to build stone arch bridges altogether, the county designed some of its best stone bridges. Under the auspices of C. W. Buskirk, county engineer, a series of “scientific” stone arch bridges were erected. Quite a few stone bridges from this era remain, testifying to the quality of the construction. The stone bridges competed with concrete bridges, and concrete bridges were steadily becoming more popular. However, in 1915, the stone arch bridge era in Butler County pretty well came to an abrupt end, following two major bridge failures. One other change in Butler County worth mentioning in the stone arch bridge realm came in 1912. In the spring of 1912, Abe Matheney, who had been a pioneer stone arch bridge builder in the county, passed away following an illness.

Two Major Bridge Failures

The stone arch bridge era in Butler County pretty much came to an end in 1915. Not only was concrete becoming solidly established as a viable alternative to stone, but several stone bridge failures occurring in the spring of 1915 appear to have influenced the county commissioners against stone. The Indianola Schoolhouse Bridge (#5) completed in 1897 by C. C. Jamison succumbed to flooding. According to C. W. Buskirk, the partial collapse of the arch was probably due to debris impacts knocking loose stones. By far a more dramatic failure, however, was the fall of Walter Sharp’s 1903 Whitewater River Bridge (#30). Unlike the Indianola Schoolhouse Bridge, the Whitewater River Bridge did not collapse during flooding.

The collapse of the Whitewater River Bridge, according to various accounts, occurred on a calm Saturday evening. Some boys fishing under the bridge at the time reported being pelted by falling stone and mortar fragments shortly before the collapse. Annoyed by this constant barrage and also, from one account, no longer finding it shady under the bridge due to the setting of the sun, they moved out from under the bridge, which decision they were quite thankful for shortly afterwards. After the boys moved out from under the bridge, a car crossed. Immediately after the car reached the other side of the bridge, with a roar heard a quarter of a mile away, the 50′-span structure collapsed, having lasted only about 12 years. According to C. W. Buskirk, the cause of the collapse was a combination of circumstances. First, the arch ring was too thin. Second, the stone used was poor-quality and deteriorating. This, combined with expansion and contraction of the bridge caused by temperature changes, had caused the premature collapse of what was, at the time, the longest stone arch bridge span in Butler County.

The End of an Era

Shortly after the failure of the Indianola Schoolhouse Bridge and the collapse of the Whitewater River Bridge, the county commissioners announced that they would build and rebuild all bridges with first-class concrete, according to the July 7, 1915, daily edition of The Walnut Valley Times. This advocation of concrete as the material of choice apparently was related to the failure of the previously mentioned stone arch bridges, as these failures were listed in The Walnut Valley Times article before the announcement about building concrete bridges. The commissioners, of course, honored all the previous stone arch bridge contracts let before this announcement. After the announcement, they gave C. C. Jamison the contract for rebuilding the Indianola Schoolhouse Bridge in stone, though they had already advertised the contract for rebuilding the bridge in stone before they announced they would only build concrete bridges henceforth.

The Last Few Stone Bridges

After 1915, very few stone arch structures built. An occasional bridge was built, and, apparently, Butler County commissioners were willing in some instances to at least consider a stone bridge as an option as opposed to concrete. However, stone bridges were no longer the norm in Butler County. As, in these later years, bridges rated less and less space in the local newspapers, it is quite difficult to tell what bridges were actually built in stone. In the list below we have included two bridges that appear to have almost certainly been stone. At least one stone arch bridge was built in Butler County around the WPA era. This bridge was demolished years ago to make way for El Dorado lake, and, all in all, save for an occasional structure, the stone arch bridge era had decidedly come to a close in Butler County by 1915. In the final tally, it was for 21 years (1894 – 1915) that stone arch bridges were a mainstay in Butler County bridge building.

The Butler County Stone Arch Bridges from 1908 – 1918

Here is a list of the stone arch bridges built by Butler County from 1908 to 1918. Note that, in this era, some of the contracts advertised for either concrete or stone bridges, and, furthermore, stone and concrete were used surprisingly interchangeably at this time. Also, by the time of the later stone bridges, less and less talk about bridges appeared in the papers, making tracking down various bridges rather difficult. All of this leads to potential errors. That said, we have done extensive research, and this list should be reasonably accurate.

43West Central Avenue El Dorado West Branch Walnut River BridgeCompleted 1908Abe Matheney40′ x2Jointly paid for by the city of El Dorado and Butler County proper. As part of the deal, El Dorado gave the county commission a steel bridge that had been on the site where the stone bridge was located. Part of the steel bridge was used to span Cole Creek in Chelsea Township (for more info, see comment on bridge #46).
44Cedar Ford BridgeCompleted 1908C. C. Jamison40′ x1Extant. Bridge formerly spanned Rock Creek, but now spans a flood channel, the main channel being spanned by a concrete bridge built about a decade later.
45Diller BridgeCompleted 1908C. C. Jamison45′ x1Extant. Is the second-longest single span stone bridge ever built by the county proper.
46Branch Cole Creek CulvertCompleted 1908Joseph Sharp?This culvert was used to span a branch of Cole Creek in Chelsea Township, and was part of a road project where the main branch of Cole Creek was spanned at the same time. Incidentally, the Cole Creek Bridge was a section of an iron bridge from West Central Avenue, El Dorado. This iron bridge was given to the county when a stone bridge (#43) was built.
47Sections 8, 17 Clifford Township Whitewater River BridgeLet 1910C. C. Jamison?This bridge, which had been heavily altered with concrete and metal on one side, was demolished as part of a reconstruction project in 2020.
48Sections 25, 36 Fairmount Township Henry Creek BridgeLet 1910C. C. Jamison40′ x1Extant. Bridge is/was scheduled for reconstruction in 2024.
49Cave Spring Branch Turkey Creek BridgeCompleted 1910C. C. Jamison30′ x1Extant.
50Sections 21, 28 Augusta Township Dry Creek BridgeLet 1910Sharp & Jones (arch)
O. Markley (wing walls)
40′ x1
51Hill BridgeCompleted 1912O. Markley40′ x1Extant. Let by Augusta Township, but accepted by Butler County Commissioners. The bridge was scheduled for reconstruction in 2022.
52Spring/El Dorado township line Turkey Creek bridgeCompleted 1913C. C. Jamison30′ x1, 20′ x1Extant.
53Grant BridgeCompleted 1914C. C. Jamison30′ x1Extant. Even though it is over 100 years old, this bridge appears to have seen few to no alterations.
54Rosalia Township culvertLet 1915C. C. Jamison10′ x1Extant.
55Wilhite BridgeLet 1915C. C. Jamison33′ x1
56Rebuild of the 1896 Indainola Schoolhouse Bridge (#5)Let 1915C. C. Jamison30′ x1The arch of the original bridge partially collapsed during a flood. The rebuild was not entire, as sound portions of the old bridge were to be reused. However, the arch was to be completely rebuilt, essentially making a new bridge, and one abutment repaired or rebuilt.
57Sections 20, 21 Bloomington Township culvertLet 1917?8′ x1Site on private property; status uncertain.
58Stone Branch Hickory Creek Brownlow Schoolhouse BridgeCompleted 1918Kiser & Sons?One source stated that this was a cement bridge; however several sources say it was stone, and at the site the current low-water bridge has stonework in the approaches.
Stone arch bridges built by Butler County, Kansas, 1908- 1918. 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.

The Locations of the Butler County Stone Arch Bridges

Below is a map showing, to the best of our knowledge, all the stone arch bridges built by Butler County proper. This map represents our current information, and will be updated should it become necessary. For specific information on the stone bridges built from 1904 – 1907, see the previous post of this series. For a description of the 1899 – 1903 stone bridges, click here. For a description of the 1882 – 1898 stone bridges, see the first post of this series.

The Butler County stone bridge map

The Stone Bridges of Butler County

In the final tally, Butler County, Kansas, built over 50 stone bridges, quite a few of which exist today. Though not as well known as the Cowley County bridges, Butler’s bridges are still well worth a visit. Featuring simple, but effective designs, most of Butler’s stone arch bridges show well the simplicity and beauty of the stone arch bridge.

Click here to see the previous post in the series.