The Cowley County commissioners were pleased with Butler and Greenwood’s stone arch bridges. They promptly awarded Walter Sharp the contract for a stone bridge over Timber Creek in late 1901.
Walter Sharp began to spend more time in Cowley. Cowley was a new territory for Butler’s stone masons. Abe Matheney found work in Cowley beginning in 1904. Most of all, Walter Sharp began doing extensive bridge work in Cowley County, the work for which he is best remembered. At this point, Walter Sharp built fewer bridges in Butler. Joseph Sharp, of the old Sharp Brothers firm, continued to build in Butler. Abe Matheney still built some bridges in Butler as well. However, starting in about 1901, C. C. Jamison began to become the single most prolific stone arch bridge builder in Butler County.
C. C. Jamison Rises to Prominence
The bridge for which C. C. Jamison is probably best known is his 1901 Polecat Creek Bridge near Douglass. This single-arch bridge has a modest span of 24 feet. Polecat Creek Bridge is Butler County’s only stone arch bridge on the National Register of Historic Places. This bridge cost a mere $284, which was a few dollars lower than Walter Sharp’s bid for the job.
Polecat Creek Bridge was only the beginning. C. C. Jamison continued to build bridges, a notable one being his 1903 Harrison Creek Bridge, which still is in use. This bridge was a challenge to C. C. Jamison, as an underground flow of water made it difficult for him to reach bedrock.
Some of C. C. Jamison’s best work was in 1905 and 1906.
In 1905 he received the contract for a 40-foot-span stone arch bridge over Rock Creek. In 1906 he received a contract for another large stone arch bridge, this time over Hickory Creek. 40 feet is not a small span, but C. C Jamison was up to the challenge. The Rock Creek Bridge was completed successfully. This bridge still spans Rock Creek near Latham.
The Hickory Creek Bridge was a little more challenging. C. C. Jamison had not yet completed the arch when the formwork supporting the arch failed, causing a complete, expensive loss of his work. However, C. C. Jamison “picked up the pieces,” so to speak, and built the bridge all over again, this time with success. C. C. Jamison heralded the completed bridge as a masterpiece of stonework. The county commissioners accepted the work, but the Logan Township board went further and pronounced the bridge to be one of the best bridges in Butler County. The readers can judge for themselves how well built the bridge is. This bridge, originally known as the Minos West Ford Bridge, carries Ellis Road over Hickory Creek, south of Leon. In appearance, it is interesting to note how similar it is to the Rock Creek Bridge Jamison built the year before.
For many years afterward, C. C. Jamison continued to build stone arch bridges in Butler, many of which still remain and are being regularly used. Beyond a doubt, C. C. Jamison left his mark on the Butler roads — most of the remaining stone arch bridges in the county are his work.
Abe Matheney’s Work in Butler County
Abe Matheney, while building in Cowley County periodically, cheerfully continued to build stone bridges in Butler.
Once, while working on a bridge over Hickory Creek, Abe Matheney thought he found silver in the stones being used for the bridge.
Most of Abe Matheney’s work in the early 1900s was relatively straightforward and simple. A good example of Abe Matheney’s work is the 1901 Gillion Creek Bridge on Santa Fe Lake Road.
In 1906 Abe Matheney received a job adding an extra 36-foot arch to a bridge Walter Sharp built a few years previous over the Walnut River. This bridge now carries a blacktop, having been widened later. More about this bridge can be found here.
However, one of Abe Matheney’s biggest jobs was the erection of a massive and elaborate stone bridge in 1908 over the Walnut River in El Dorado.
El Dorado’s Walnut River Bridges
In 1906, Joseph Sharp built a double-arch bridge on North Main Street, El Dorado. This bridge consisted of two 44 foot-spans, and crossed the West Branch of the Walnut River. In appearance this bridge looked more or less typical of Butler’s stone arch bridges, and was not terribly elaborate.
However, in 1908, El Dorado built a true “city bridge” featuring plaques, lights, decorations, and everything. This bridge was built by Abe Matheney, and featured Matheney’s best work. This bridge, located on East Central Avenue, consisted of two 40-foot arches, and was 28 feet wide. The approaches to this bridge were quite long. This fancy structure spanned the West Branch of the Walnut River. Unfortunately, when originally making his bill to the city of El Dorado for the bridge, Abe Matheney neglected to account for the whole amount of his work. A few weeks later, he wrote out an additional bill for his work. The city refused to pay it and a lawsuit followed. Abe Matheney eventually won the lawsuit and celebrated his victory by setting off three sticks of dynamite near the bridge. Abe Matheney was happy.
The Quantity of Butler’s Stone Arch Bridges
While it is hard to get an exact estimate of how many stone arch bridges are in each county in Kansas, Butler County appears to rank first for sheer number, though that title may actually go to one of the “post rock” counties in western Kansas.
The trouble is that stone arch culverts tend to be poorly documented. There are over 20 stone arch bridges and culverts on Butler’s roads today. Most of these bridges are somewhat small, but they represent an important era in Butler County’s road history.
Cowley County is best known for its stone arch bridges. Historically, Cowley’s fame was related to the quantity of massive stone bridges Cowley built.
Butler’s one record-breaking bridge, a 66-foot span built over the Whitewater near Augusta, quickly proved to be a failure due to foundational troubles. For years Butler had the most stone arch bridges and Cowley the largest. Butler’s stone arch culvert building campaign was second to none, for it was reported by the Kansas City Star towards the end of 1905 that the Butler townships had built nearly 300 such culverts!
Butler County’s Stone Bridges Today
Is it possible that there are stone arch culverts hidden still under the roads of Butler? Perhaps. Given the sheer quantity built, the odds seem reasonable that more may exist.
Take the Walz Ford Bridge, for instance. This bridge was, apparently, more or less forgotten, partially filled in, yet still carries the road. Only a thorough exploration of Butler County’s roads can determine how many stone arch bridges and culverts are left.
Butler County was one of the foremost pioneers in stone arch bridge construction in Kansas. Even to this day, the county still has a massive number of relics from this bygone era, where permanence coupled with keeping the county’s money within the county took the lead.
“Butler county, Kansas, is in the lead in stone bridges and culverts and in years to come in this respect its fame will go abroad. The county will have nothing else.”
— Leon Indicator, December 7, 1905, quoting the Kansas City Star.