There are several advantages inherent to a stone arch bridge over modern structures. Not only is a stone bridge one of the most aesthetically appealing forms of bridges in existence, it provides a highly valuable use of local material. Best of all, a well-built stone bridge ranks among the most enduring of all man-made structures.
There is arguably no bridge that appeals to the eye like a stone arch bridge. The use of nature’s own material — stone — gives a stone arch bridge an unparalleled ability to unobtrusively become part of the landscape itself. The natural joints of the stone bridge break the monotony often associated with concrete structures. The graceful curve of the arch itself is another natural shape, for nature can and does build bridges out of arches. A stone bridge need not be ornamented to be aesthetically appealing. In fact, there is a certain honesty inherent to the scenic appearance of an unornamented stone arch bridge.
Even without embellishments, the natural, simple shape of a stone arch bridge makes it unquestionably a beautiful structure. Furthermore, no two stone bridges are exactly alike, particularly those not built with stones cut to templates. The result is that every stone arch bridge has its own subtle differences, which give it its own unique appearance, quite different from the standardized form of concrete bridges.
A Valuable Use of Local Resources
Historically, stone arch bridges were often built by local builders using locally sourced stones, which are often readily available. For this reason, the community member often felt they had a certain stake in the bridge, and took pride in the structure their efforts helped build. One major appeal with stone arch bridges was the fact that local resources went into the bridge, which was then built by local labor, as opposed to outsourcing all the labor and materials. It was not uncommon for local residents of an area to be benefited by the bridge to “chip in” by contributing stone, or perhaps find some paying work by hauling stone or helping with the masonry. Thus, a valuable aid to local transportation could be had while keeping most of the money required for such a project within the community.
In Kansas, at least, it was often boasted that everything save the mortar was sourced locally when a stone bridge was built.
Though many were designed to last only fifty to seventy-five years, a well-built concrete bridge should be able to last about a century. Though a century is undeniably a long time, a well-built stone bridge may last for millennia. There are numerous stone arch bridges built by the Romans that are still in use, even if they have seen some repairs over the centuries. One Roman bridge, Pons Fabricius in Rome, still has its original arches, despite being over two millennia old. A further testimony to the strength and durability of stone arch bridges comes from the fact that almost all of the stone arch bridges still in use today are carrying modern traffic for which they were most certainly never designed. The reason for this durability of stone bridges is simple. Good, sound, stone lasts for ages, and the arch is a natural shape that allows stone to be used to advantage. Furthermore, the arch is an impressively strong structure, allowing even the crude bridges of medieval times to carry modern traffic.
And, because of the enduring nature of stone arch bridges, it is hardly surprising that these bridges eventually become an important part of an area’s heritage, a tangible mark of history left by people long gone.