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Stone Arch Bridges of Kansas

Stone Arch Bridges of Kansas
Fromm Bridge, Cowley County, KS

Kansas has a large number of stone arch bridges and culverts — reasonable estimates put the number at over 200 such structures across the state. The choice was natural enough; stone is plentiful and readily available in Kansas, and, particularly in western Kansas, stone was just about the only building material available. So much so, that “post rock” (i.e., stone fence posts) became quite popular in some areas. It was a natural choice, then, to use the stone for bridges. Even in more timbered areas of Kansas, such as Cowley County, stone became a popular choice, largely due to the fact that the native timber tended to fare badly in the weather — timber bridges and timber-floored bridges frequently became hazards, as evidenced by the surprising number of old newspaper articles devoted to various mishaps involving rotted bridges!

Stone arch bridges are scattered throughout Kansas; however, there are two main “pockets” where the structures are quite plentiful. One such “pocket” consists mainly of Butler and Cowley counties jointly (Cowley is renowned nationwide for its selection of native rock, stone arch bridges), with a small handful of stone arch bridges in the adjoining counties of Chase, Greenwood, Elk, and Chautauqua. The other large concentrated area is in the heart of post rock country — Lincoln County having a large number of stone arch bridges, with Mitchell and Russell counties having more than just a few. Osborne, Ness, and Rush counties have a handful of stone arch bridges as well.

The WPA built quite a few of the stone arch bridges in Kansas; however, many of the stone arch bridges predate the WPA by a few years. Some in this group were built by contractors working for the county and are well documented; others seem to be a little more elusive in origin.

Most of Kansas’s stone arch bridges are built of limestone — the ones in the post rock region are specifically chalk — but a few are made of sandstone. All reflect the native rock since as a rule the rock was quarried very close to site.

The state of Kansas features a large region where stone arch bridges were popular and where many still remain to this day, most of which still faithfully carry the road as they have been doing for nearly a century or more.