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Update on Esch’s Spur Bridge

Back in June we wrote an article on the Esch’s Spur Bridge (also denoted as Kirk Bridge), a well-known triple-arch bridge outside Dexter, Cowley, Kansas, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. After further flooding, the middle arch sustained substantial damage.

Update on Esch's Spur Bridge
Obscured by the cutwater, nevertheless loss of the facing of the arch is plainly visible.

A notable portion of the arch has collapsed, causing loss of part of the spandrel wall as well as fill, with a resultant hole in the roadbed.

Repair of Partially Collapsed Arches
Detail of the hole in the roadbed of Esch’s Spur Bridge.

This only remaining triple-arch bridge in Cowley County, Kansas, is now in imminent danger of being lost, for a few more floods high enough to reach the damaged portion of the arch can finish destroying this part of the structure, making the rest of the bridge very vulnerable to total collapse.

As this is the largest stone bridge built over Grouse Creek (and thus one of the largest stone arch bridges built in Cowley County, Kansas) it is our sincere hope that a means to save this structure can be found. It was large bridges like this that made Cowley County famous for its stone bridges. Many Kansas counties have numerous stone arch bridges — Cowley’s neighbor, Butler County, for instance has more stone arch bridges on the road network than Cowley, yet most of them are scarcely larger than a culvert in size. Cowley alone excelled in building large, daring structures.

In recent years, two of the largest bridges in Cowley have been lost: The H. Branson bridge collapsed in the early 2000s. It had a single arch span of 75 feet — the largest single arch in Kansas, a title which it likely held until its collapse.

The McCaw Bridge (better known as Fox Bridge) collapsed in 2016. It was the second largest span in Kansas, with a span of 70 feet.

Both of these bridges were over Grouse Creek, a waterway famous for the numerous, massive stone bridges crossing it. By 1922 there were 14 stone bridges over the Grouse. The Esch’s Spur Bridge is a structure unique to the area from an engineering standpoint, and is one of but three remaining stone arch bridges over Grouse Creek (the Neer Bridge and the Fromm Bridge, both north of Cambridge and within about two miles of each other being the other two).

If the Esch’s Spur Bridge either collapses or is otherwise removed, not only will Cowley be minus its only remaining triple-arch bridge, a bridge for which the town of Dexter is well known, but the most massive stone bridge remaining in Cowley will be lost.

Update on Esch's Spur Bridge
A mural showing things significant to the town of Dexter, including the horse the town was named after, dirigible airships representing Dexter helium, and the idealized form of a certain triple-arch stone bridge….