Butler County, Kansas, has had many stone arch bridges built over the years, about 20 of which still remain on the road system. These bridges were important to the progress of the county and represent an era when good roads were considered important for the establishment of trade. Many of these stone bridges are still fairly well known, such as the Polecat Creek Bridge, but how many bridges remain unknown?
It was a cold winter day. Driving along Bluestem Road, we crossed Rock Creek. We had been on this crossing many times before and had seen stones along the road, like the approaches for an old stone arch bridge, but the actual crossing consists of some sort of a corrugated metal structure. This time we decided to see how much of the old bridge remained.
Stopping and looking around quickly showed that, apparently, the stone bridge’s span had been replaced and some concrete added to help support the “modern” bridge. That was that—so it appeared.
Heading back to the truck, something caught our eye. Beyond the bridge…were those cut stones showing through the road gravel? And what was that metal rail doing by that dry, shallow channel? Curiosity aroused, we looked—and there, almost completely buried, were two arches of a stone bridge! Only one side of the bridge showed at all, the other end terminating completely underground, but nevertheless there was a long-forgotten stone arch bridge!
This buried bridge is located about one mile south of SE 210th on Bluestem Road in Clay Township, Butler County, Kansas. It is located a short distance from where the road crosses Rock Creek, high and dry. Yet, it would appear that it used to span Rock Creek, as will be shown.
“…Also the sum of $500 for the construction of a double arch bridge consisting of two 18 foot arches, across the Rock Creek on the section line between sections 20 and 21, township 29, range 3 east, Clay Township.”
This offer appeared in the Butler County Democrat from El Dorado on August 25, 1899. On the same date, the Augusta Weekly Gazette announced, “Bids will be advertised…. Also for a bridge of two 18-foot arches across Rock Creek at Watz’s ford in Clay township.”
A check of a 1905 Butler plat map showed the site for this bridge as described by the Butler County Democrat to be precisely where the partly buried double-arch stone bridge is located. The plat map showed the surrounding land to be owned by “Geo. Walz.” While the name is very close to the “Watz” printed in the Augusta Weekly Gazette, somebody obviously spelled it wrong, that somebody being the Gazette. This is borne out by an article from the Walnut Valley Times from January 12, 1900:
“The commissioners had a long hard drive yesterday. They went down to inspect the bridge on the Walz ford in Clay township. They got lost on the road home and didn’t get back until midnight.”
This not only showed the correct spelling of the landowner’s name, but also confirmed that this turn-of-the-century bridge was built and is almost certainly the same one that lies partly buried under the road.
The question remains—who built the bridge?
That is a tough question. On January 31, 1900, the Walnut Valley Times reported that “Walter Sharp has completed a double 18 foot span, stone arch bridge across Rock Creek near Church Price’s in Clay township.” This could be the same bridge, and the date works out—but why is “Church Price’s” mentioned instead of “the Walz ford?” Furthermore, while C.M. Price lived in the vicinity and had land on Rock Creek, as shown on the plat map, none of his land abutted the bridge site and his house was well away from the creek itself.
Our research was unable, at the time of this writing, to confirm who built the bridge. An in-depth study, perhaps at the Butler County courthouse, might be able to determine this point.
More Hidden Stone Arch Bridges?
The Walz Ford Bridge represents one forgotten bridge still buried under the road. How many more stone arch bridges lie hidden under Kansas roadways?