Some Numbers on Butler County’s Stone Bridges

NE 110th Street Double Arch Walnut River bridge

In a previous post, we compiled a number of statistics based on our series Stone Arch Bridges of Butler County, Kansas: Builders and Locations in which we showed how many bridges the county built, how many remained, and who built them. What we did not take into account was what bridges were replaced why. This would be difficult to do, but one can safely assume that a bridge that was located on a two-lane road would be replaced; the originals were only good for a (narrow) one-lane road. There is only one noteworthy exception to this rule; the Ellis Bridge in northern Butler was widened with a cantilevered slab to accommodate its minor blacktop.

NE 110th Street Double Arch Walnut River bridge
Ellis Bridge.

In this post we will investigate in more detail Butler County’s stone arch bridge numbers.

The Numbers

First, we will start with the basic raw numbers for Butler County stone bridges.

Builder# Built# In Active Use# Extant But Abandoned# Status UnknownRemarks
Butler County5820 (34%)1 (2%)4 (7%)
Eli Warren10 (0%)0 (0%)0 (0%)
Walter Sharp173 (18%)0 (0%)0 (0%)One of the actively used Walter Sharp bridges was heavily altered by Abe Matheney a few years after Sharp built it, due to the original’s inadequate waterway. One of the bridges we counted as Walter Sharp’s was built in conjunction with a business partner of his (“Sharp & Jones”). The wing walls (approaches?) for this bridge were built by O. Markley.
C. C. Jamison2212 (55%)1 (5%)1 (5%)
Abe Matheney95 (56%)0 (0%)0 (0%)
Owen Jones10 (0%)0 (0%)1 (100%)
Joseph Sharp30 (0%)0 (0%)0 (0%)
O. Markley11 (100%)0 (0%)0 (0%)
Kiser & Sons10 (0%)0 (0%)0 (0%)
Unknown Builders30 (0%)0 (0%)2 (66%)
The chart showing the builders of the Butler County bridges and how many remain. The chart is organized by the order in which various builders appeared on the Butler County stone bridge building scene, with bridges by unknown builders moved to the bottom of the table. The percentages have been rounded to the nearest whole number.

Now, 18 of the bridges built in Butler were on roads that have since become blacktops. Only one of these, the Ellis Bridge, remains. The Ellis Bridge, incidentally, is located on a minor blacktop. This minor blacktop is not part of the “county system” nor any other highway system. One final twist is the fact that, on what is now a major blacktop, C. C. Jamison built a stone bridge that was destroyed in a flood in 1915, and rebuilt in kind, all before the road became a two-lane blacktop.

More Considerations: Waterway

One factor to consider in why a bridge may have failed in Butler is the major problem in Butler County’s early designs: grossly inadequate waterway. As an example, the oldest stone arch bridge in Butler County (Nuttle Bridge over Turkey Creek by Abe Matheney) is one span of 25 feet, and is the only remaining stone arch bridge in Butler that was built pre-1899. About 1/2 mile upstream, the stream splits off into the minor Cave Springs Branch and the main channel. The first bridge over the Cave Springs Branch above where it joins the main channel of Turkey Creek is a 1908 30′ span stone bridge by C. C. Jamison. The main channel one mile above the Nuttle Bridge is spanned by a 1913 double-arch bridge also by C. C. Jamison, consisting of one 30′ and one 20′ span. So consider: The aggregate waterway of the two stone bridges immediately upstream of the Nuttle Bridge is 80′, while the Nuttle Bridge itself has only a 25′ waterway!

Abe Matheney's 1897 Turkey Creek Bridge
Nuttle Bridge.

Not surprisingly, it is well documented that the Nuttle Bridge has been rather battered by floods in the past; even now it has some concrete features in the approaches.

Some Final Numbers

It is rather difficult to precisely pinpoint when Butler County fixed the inadequate waterway problem; two early bridges, the Peter Johnson Bridge and the Ellis Bridge, were later modified with extra spans in order to mitigate regular flood damages. County commissioner Snodgrass stated in 1898 that if the county was going to go to the expense of building a permanent stone bridge, the least they could do was build it large enough to handle floods without needing rebuilt a year or two later. As far as original designs are concerned, the Ellis Bridge is probably one of the last stone bridges built with a majorly inadequate waterway; it was heavily modified in 1906 to rectify this defect. It is probably no coincidence that very few of Butler’s early stone bridges remain; the Nuttle Bridge is the oldest, and, save for the Nuttle Bridge, all the remaining stone bridges Butler County built date from after county commissioner Snodgrass remarked that they needed to increase the waterway of the bridges they were building. In our series of posts on the topic, we divided the stone arch bridge era of Butler into four sections: 1898 and earlier, 1899 – 1903, 1904 – 1907, and 1908 to 1918. 1898 and earlier saw many too-small bridges. 1899 – 1903 saw better bridges, a little small still, but good just the same, 1904 – 1907 saw well-built, massive bridges, and the highlight of 1908 – 1918 was county engineer’s Buskirk brilliantly engineered scientific stone bridges. So, back to our original Butler numbers, below are four tables, done for each of our loosely defined “eras” in Butler stone bridge building, showing when the various builders were most active in Butler stone bridge building and how many bridges from this era remain.

Builder# Built From 1882 – 1898# In Active Use# Extant But Abandoned# Status Unknown# On Major Road
Butler County131 (8%)0 (0%)1 (8%)7 (54%, but note one of these bridges was damaged by floods and rebuilt in kind before the road was turned into a major dual-lane blacktop.)
Eli Warren10 (0%)0 (0%)0 (0%)1 (100%)
Walter Sharp90 (0%)0 (0%)0 (0%)5 (56%)
C. C. Jamison10 (0%)0 (0%)0 (0%)1 (100%, but this bridge was replaced in kind due to flood damages in 1915.)
Abe Matheney11 (100%)0 (0%)0 (0%)0 (0%)
Unknown Builder10 (0%)0 (0%)1(100%)
Butler County stone bridges from 1882 – 1898.
Builder# Built From 1899 – 1903# In Active Use# Extant But Abandoned# Status Unknown# On Major Road
Butler County178 (47%)1 (6%)1 (6%)1 (6%)
Owen Jones10 (0%)0 (0%)1 (100%)0 (0%)
Walter Sharp63 (50%)0 (0%)0 (0%)0 (0%)
C. C. Jamison42 (50%)1 (25%)0 (0%)1 (25%)
Abe Matheney63 (50%)0 (0%)0 (0%)0 (0%)
Butler County stone bridges from 1899 – 1903.
Builder# Built From 1904 – 1907# In Active Use# Extant But Abandoned# Status Unknown# On Major Road
Butler County124 (33%)0 (0%)1 (8%)5 (42%)
Joseph Sharp20 (0%)0 (0%)0 (0%)2 (100%)
Walter Sharp10 (0%)0 (0%)0 (0%)1 (100%)
C. C. Jamison73 (43%)0 (0%)1 (14%)2 (29%)
Abe Matheney11 (100%)0 (0%)0 (0%)0 (0%)
Unknown Builder10 (0%)0 (0%)0 (0%)1 (100%)
Butler County stone bridges from 1904 – 1907.
Builder# Built From 1908 – 1918# In Active Use# Extant But Abandoned# Status Unknown# On Major Road
Butler County168 (50%)0 (0%)1 (6%)3 (19%)
Joseph Sharp10 (0%)0 (0%)0 (0%)0 (0%)
Walter Sharp10 (0%)0 (0%)0 (0%)1 (100%)
C. C. Jamison107 (70%)0 (0%)0 (0%)1 (10%)
Abe Matheney10 (0%)0 (0%)0 (0%)1 (100%)
O. Markley11 (100%)0 (0%)0 (0%)0 (0%)
Kiser & Sons10 (0%)0 (0%)0 (0%)0 (0%)
Unknown Builder10 (0%)0 (0%)1 (100%)0 (0%)
Butler County stone bridges from 1907 – 1918.

All Together Now….

So what do the numbers look like if we remove stone bridges built on major roads on the assumption they were replaced due to insufficient width? Below is a table of the results of this exercise. Note that we counted one bridge built by C. C. Jamison that was on a major road. The reason for this is that the original was destroyed in a flood in 1915, and was replaced by C. C Jamison in kind afterwards. We did not count the replacement; presumably it was removed to make way for the major two-lane blacktop now known as Santa Fe Lake Road.

Builder# Built On Minor Roads# In Active Use# Extant But Abandoned# Status UnknownRemarks
Butler County4220 (48%)1 (2%)4 (10%)
Walter Sharp103 (30%)0 (0%)0 (0%)Note that the Peter Johnson Bridge by Walter Sharp is included in this number; it was on a minor blacktop. Also the Ellis Bridge, originally by Walter Sharp, is also located on a minor blacktop and was heavily altered by Abe Matheney in 1906 due to insufficient waterway.
C. C. Jamison1812 (66%)1 (6%)1 (6%)See note in the description before the table.
Abe Matheney85 (63%)0 (0%)0 (0%)
Owen Jones10 (0%)0 (0%)1 (100%)
Joseph Sharp10 (0%)0 (0%)0 (0%)
O. Markley11 (100%)0 (0%)0 (0%)
Kiser & Sons10 (0%)0 (0%)0 (0%)
Unknown Builders20 (0%)0 (0%)2 (100%)
Butler bridges on minor roads.

The above statistics suggest a couple of things. One (and this is a well-known fact on a global scale), inadequate width is a major cause for stone arch bridge replacement. Many otherwise good stone bridges have been replaced for being too narrow. Two, inadequate waterway probably ultimately led to the replacement of many of Butler County’s earliest bridges. This may account for why such a low percentage of Walter Sharp’s bridges remain: He was mostly active in Butler County’s earliest stone bridge building. Many of these early bridges were on major roads, while many others were too small for their streams. All in all, when organized by year, it becomes painfully obvious that Butler County’s stone bridge building seemed to have improved about the time county commissioner Snodgrass remarked on the woefully inadequate waterway of the county’s bridges.