What is known about some of the stone arch bridges of Cowley County, Kansas, is a little bit sketchy. Some bridges, like the Pudden Bridge, are very well known, and the basic information including the builder and the year the bridge was built is readily available, thanks to the plaque on the bridge. (As a side note, the plaque on Pudden Bridge actually refers to the bridge as the Kirk Bridge. You’ll find more information on this in our detailed history of Pudden Bridge). Another similarly well-marked bridge is the Floral Bridge, which has the date and builder plainly visible to all.
Unfortunately, not all bridges are so well marked. The Fromm Bridge, for example, is, in fact, surprisingly elusive in this regard. No plaque is visible — just a faintly marked “W Sharp” and a more bold “1917” etched in the concrete curbing on top. Unfortunately, this marking is not what one would call a conclusively reliable source of information; furthermore, it does not account for the buried arch of the bridge, which, judging from the masonry, seems to have been built by a builder other than the one who was responsible for the main arch. That said, in our study of the bridges of Cowley, thanks to some obscured plaques, we have stumbled upon some interesting information on two of the bridges we studied.
The Neer Bridge
The Neer Bridge is a large double-arch bridge spanning Grouse Creek north of Cambridge.
According to the 2017 Cowley County stone arch bridge brochure, it was built in 1913. Newspaper references mention a Neer Bridge (stone arch) built by A. Cook of Cambridge. This bridge was under construction in 1913. The picture appears complete. However, the plaque located on the downstream face of the Neer Bridge above the pier tells a slightly different story. While hard to read, it states “_harp & Son” as the builder of the bridge, almost certainly meaning Sharp.
What gives? If A. Cook built the Neer Bridge, why does the plaque say “Sharp & Son?” In fact, a further reading of the newspapers reveals bids being opened for the rebuilding of the Neer Bridge in 1915. There was a lot of flooding around this time, and it would appear that the original Neer Bridge was more or less destroyed by the floods.
Extra evidence in favor of this conclusion is the massive amount of cut stones extending from bank to bank below the Neer Bridge, visible during low water. It would appear that the Neer Bridge we see today is the second stone arch Neer Bridge to be built at this point.
The Timber Creek Bridge
Another bridge with an obscure yet revealing plaque is the Timber Creek Bridge east of Atlanta.
This beautiful single-arch bridge is in excellent condition, and even retains some gas-pipe railing. The span is a large one, and the creek is beautiful as seen from this bridge.
According to the 2017 Cowley County stone arch bridge brochure, this scenic bridge was built in 1904, and is sometimes called the Woolsey Bridge.
There was indeed a Woolsey Bridge built by Walter Sharp in 1904. However, this Timber Creek Bridge near Atlanta does not appear to be the Woolsey Bridge Sharp built in 1904. A look at a 1905 plat map would seem to suggest that the Woolsey Bridge was located near where the blacktop heading east out of Atlanta crosses Timber Creek — not where the stone arch bridge is located.
Most significantly, however, a plaque is located on the top course of masonry on the downstream side of the bridge, facing the roadway. This plaque (variably buried by the gravel roadbed) has a date on it.
Though the last number is hard to read, the rest clearly says “191_.” This later date is confirmed by the presence of Commissioner Goforth’s name on the plaque. Goforth was a later Cowley commissioner; his name is not on earlier bridges, such as the Floral Bridge from 1906.
Research reveals that this bridge was originally known as the Snodgrass Bridge. Bids were opened for it in 1915. It was contracted to a local Atlanta man: “Doc Smith,” who built it for $922.
Who knows? Perhaps there are other obscured plaques on the bridges of Cowley, waiting to be discovered.
In the early years of Cowley bridge building, the plaques appear to have frequently been placed in the spandrel walls of the bridge towards the bank (examples: Floral Bridge, as well as the now-collapsed H. Branson Bridge and McCaw Bridge). These plaques are usually visible on the downstream side of the bridge.
Quite honestly, the plaques can be anywhere on the bridge; one just has to look. And, while quite a few bridges do not have obvious plaques, quite a few of Cowley’s bridges still bear readily visible plaques for all to read.
Additional resource: Index of the Stone Arch Bridges of Cowley County, Kansas