These two stone arch bridges in Cowley County, Kansas, were rather unexpected finds. Turning onto scenic and winding 323rd Road off of Cowley Route 28, we eventually came upon these stone arch bridges. For their exact locations, please see our Cowley County stone arch bridge page and its associated map. The bridges are numbers 29 and 30.
The First Otter Township Stone Bridge We Found
The first bridge we found is truly a remarkable bridge. This structure, located right at a major bend in the road, is a single-arch bridge, with a large Roman arch of an estimated span length of 12 feet or so.
Though the stones are more or less uncut, they are well positioned, and it is obvious that the mason used what he had quite well. The entire styling of this culvert is very different from that of most Kansas stone arch bridges. It brings to mind some of the mortarless bridges of the New England area, though this Cowley bridge clearly used mortar originally. The whole underside of the arch is coated in mortar, and it is clear from this that the mortar was poured in from the top after the arch was laid.
Unfortunately, this stone bridge is suffering some severe structural problems. The entire face of the arch has separated from the rest of the arch and there is a hole along the side of the road where all the fill directly above has fallen through the gap in the arch.
Judging from appearances, it seems as though the failing of the spandrel wall (clearly visible in the photo above) in turn pulled the out the arch ring with it leading to a serious crack. This type of damage can be repaired, and, fortunately, the rest of the arch barrel appears to still be quite sound.
There are several ways a repair to this bridge could be effected, but probably the most economical in this case would be to add an arch liner to the bridge. An arch liner is essentially half of a corrugated metal culvert slid beneath the arch to support it. Though a long enough arch liner could support the stable portion of the arch as well as the separated piece and fill in the gap between the two sections, a more ideal solution would involve rebuilding the separated piece of the arch altogether. This could be done easily if a record were made of where and in what order all the arch stones on the delaminated section of the arch were placed originally. That determined, the separated piece of the arch could be dismantled and then relaid directly against the rest of the arch like it was originally; the arch liner would act as the centering. With some mortar, a very neat and durable repair could be achieved this way ensuring the serviceability of this culvert for years to come. No matter how the arch was repaired, the collapsing spandrel wall and approach would, of course, need to be rebuilt.
This bridge has been added to our Cowley County stone arch bridge list, map number 29.
The Second Otter Township Stone Bridge
This bridge is also an unusual one, featuring tall abutments. It is located a short way south from the first stone bridge we found in Otter Township.
At a glance, this bridge could pass as a metal culvert with stones on it, but a close look at the stones reveal that the stones over the span are laid as a true arch. The metal half-culvert clearly visible in the span is, incidentally, an arch liner. The main question about this bridge is whether the bridge was built originally with the arch liner or the liner was added to strengthen the bridge. Usually, arch liners are added later to strengthen a bridge, but occasionally in more modern years a stone arch bridge was built with the liner beneath from the beginning, the liner acting both as the centering and a structural member. On this second Otter Township bridge, the liner has its own shelf it sits on, which may have been added after the bridge was completed; it seems to have a lot of concrete mixed in with large stones.
This bridge is in good condition, though there is some evidence of a slow scouring of the shale the bridge sits on. It is an interesting bridge, and the general shape and laying of the arch stones is very similar to the first Otter Township stone bridge we found. Perhaps they were built by the same builder, in which case the arch liner was probably added later. It has been added to our Cowley County stone arch bridge list, map number 30.
Otter Township “Pseudo” Stone Arch bridges
We found plenty of “pseudo” stone arch bridges before we found the true stone bridges in Otter Township. Apparently, at some point, the township erected many bridges using stone and an arch shape, but no true arch. Instead the structures rely on corbelling of the stones and a good dose of concrete to bridge the gap.
It is hard to say when these structures were built; at a glance they seem fairly old. These culverts are almost entirely stone, concrete having been used mostly around the opening.
It appears that when these culverts were built stone was the most affordable building material available, but arch building skills were either not available or too expensive, so concrete was used to make up the difference.