Otter Creek Bridge

Otter Creek Bridge

The North Branch Otter Creek Bridge in Greenwood County, Kansas, is a well-known, triple-arch stone bridge listed on the National Register of Historical Places. It was built by pioneer bridge builder Walter Sharp, as shown by the plaque. Walter Sharp is renowned for being the foremost builder of the famous Cowley County stone arch bridges.

Otter Creek Bridge
Plaque

When Greenwood County decided to bypass this old stone bridge, demolishing it was considered. After the resulting protests, the bridge was preserved and left for pedestrians to walk on and passersby to admire.

The Otter Creek Bridge is one of the few remaining bridges Walter Sharp built employing a series of highly rounded arches. Where a large waterway was critical, Walter Sharp seems to have favored this method of constructing a series of smaller, rounded arches on thin piers instead of one or several long, flat arches. The famous Dunkard Mill Bridge over the Walnut in Cowley outside of Arkansas City was an example of this kind of construction. Greenwood’s double-arch Fall River stone bridge shows this design as well.

Unfortunately, the Otter Creek Bridge has seen little maintenance since the time it was preserved and made open for pedestrians. While not wanting to spend money on a bypassed (and hence unused) bridge is entirely understandable, it nevertheless remains true that bridges require maintenance if they are to survive.

When in 2004 the bridge was preserved, it was already deteriorating. Undermining of the piers was a major issue with this bridge even then. Now, over a decade later, the deterioration has reached significant levels. All of the piers are undermined to varying degrees and masonry is dropping out in places.

Otter Creek Bridge
Both this pier and abutment are severely undermined

One of the abutments and the approach leading to it have been scoured out and part of the guard rail has toppled off and is hanging.

Otter Creek Bridge
The scoured abutment and approach

The center arch is missing stones at the bottom.

Otter Creek Bridge
On the bottom of both sides of the center arch, stones are broken and missing

Undermining of the supports of a stone arch bridge is arguably the single most common cause of stone arch bridge failure. Since stone arch bridges were frequently built on shallow foundations, they are rather easily undermined by the water action.

While the Otter Creek Bridge is a well-known Greenwood County, Kansas, landmark and magnificent triple-arch bridge, it has, sadly, reached a condition where, unless action is taken soon, like so many other famous stone arch bridges, it too will become just a memory.

Fox Creek Bridge
Fox Bridge, Cowley County, collapsed in 2016, likely due to undermining of the foundations