Paradise Bridge: The Story of Russell County’s First Stone Arch Bridge

Paradise Bridge

Like many counties in Kansas, Russell County in the heart of Post Rock Country relied heavily on steel bridges to span its streams. And as in most Kansas counties, these steel bridges became a tedious and continual repair expense.

However, Russell had an aggressive proponent for stone arch bridges in the newspaper called The Russell Record.

A Record of The Russell Record

On April 29, 1899, The Russell Record published a rather lengthy article taken from a Kansas City newspaper proclaiming the virtues of stone arch bridges and the continual wearing out of steel bridges. Among other observations, it was noted:

…[T]he iron bridge must be constantly repaired and painted and wears out in a few years. The iron gets loose and rattles; bolts rust out and the wooden floor must be renewed every year or two. The lasting qualities of the stone bridge are not conjectural. The bridges and aqueducts of Rome prove this and there are stone structures of this kind in southern Europe that are 2,000 years old.

After the quote from the Kansas City paper, The Russell Record announced:

THE RECORD has encountered considerable opposition in its advocacy of stone arch bridges in this county where stone is abundant and every facility required, with the exception of cement—and it is by no means certain that that could not be found here. At any rate the cost would be trifling in comparison with steel bridges, as all the money for material and labor WOULD BE SPENT RIGHT AT HOME.

The hostility of persons interested in iron bridges is easily accounted for, and the apathy and indifference of the people to a matter of public interest is perfectly natural. Together they form a powerful combination for a paper to contend against when it has no other motive than that of public benefit. But the idea is making headway, and, while the present editor may not live to see it, THE RECORD will live to record the demolition of the last iron bridge in Russell county and its replacement by one built of stone.

The Russell Record firmly continued in its endorsement of stone arch bridges, despite any opposition. And, on July 14 of the very next year, The Russell Record announced that the county commissioners were considering erecting a 50-foot-span stone arch bridge at the town of Paradise, adding, “It is claimed by a man who understands his business that stone arch bridges—in Russell county—will not cost more than the steel bridges.” In the same issue of the newspaper, it was triumphantly added, “There is now a fair prospect of getting a stone arch bridge. The steel ‘pull’ is losing its grip.”

Two of the county commissioners stated that they were for the construction of a stone bridge at Paradise. Nevertheless, it wasn’t until January 17, 1901, that the commissioners officially decided to build the prospective stone arch bridge.

A Great Experiment

Paradise Bridge was a pioneer structure, something of an experiment to determine if stone arch bridges were suitable for Russell County or not. The bridge was to span Paradise Creek just south of the town of Paradise. It was to be 50 feet in span and 16 feet wide, and was a needed improvement.

The county officials clearly wanted to be heavily involved in the construction of this first stone arch bridge. As The Russell Record later put it in its March 16, 1901, edition:

Important results depend upon the Paradise bridge. If it is a failure it will put a stop to arch bridges; if it is a success, there will be no more steel bridges built in this county.

Accordingly, the superintending of the construction was turned over to one of the commissioners—J.A. Guntle. Mr. Guntle was a Republican from the first district and a relatively recent addition to the Russell County board of commissioners. He was highly respected—according to an 1899 edition of The Russell Record, the only known objection to him was that “he was too conscientiously honest.”

The erection of this bridge was a great responsibility for Mr. Guntle. He was aided by the county surveyor, who, in conjunction with Mr. Guntle was to design the structure.

On January 19, 1901, The Russell Record announced the decision to build the stone bridge and added their advice regarding how important it was that the bridge have a solid foundation. They also observed:

The steel bridge companies, through their agents, have made a long and persistent fight against the introduction of stone arch bridges and will not relax their efforts until driven from the field by the success of the stone arch bridge.

The Russell Record concluded:

One thing is certain. Whatever it costs the greater part of the money will be spent in the county among our own people. Mr. Guntle will study economy—not cheapness. It will be a monument to his memory that will last longer than any shaft of marble that may be raised by his family or friends.

Designing the Bridge

On January 26, 1901, we learn from The Russell Record that bids for delivery of stone for the bridge were being received, and that J.A. Guntle predicted that the bridge would be finished in 90 days. As it happened, however, the bridge took quite a bit longer than 90 days to complete.

At the time, the contract for building the bridge was said to be given to R.R. Saum. What is confusing here is that it was later said that R.F. Saum built the bridge. R.F. Saum and his sons were a family of masons and had built buildings. Later, R.F. Saum also built a stone arch bridge over Walker Creek in Russell. Regardless, it would appear that the Saum in question, whether his initials were R.R. or R.F., was from Paradise, and no doubt was a natural choice to build the stone arch bridge.

Despite snow and bad roads, hauling stone for the bridge began in February. In early March, the county surveyor staked out the bridge site.

However, Mr. Guntle began to have concerns about the design of the bridge. In his opinion, the arch’s rise was too small. The original plans called for a 50-foot-span arch with a 10-foot rise. Concerned that this arc was too shallow for stability, Mr. Guntle called a meeting of the board of commissioners. After discussing the problem, it was decided to give the arch a 13-foot rise. To keep the overall height of the bridge the same, however, the arch was sprung three feet lower than was originally planned.

Inclement weather (specifically high winds) delayed the bridge’s construction further, but by April, or late March according to another account, Mr. Saum began laying stone for Paradise Bridge.

Next Week: Completion, and the Role of Walter Sharp

By StoneArchBridges

B. P. Lindsey is a Kansas resident who has extensively studied the stone bridges of the Sunflower State, most notably those of Cowley County. He is a writer with a love of the past — studying how people lived and how things were done in the old days. He also enjoys physics and building things. He has a particular interest in masonry and enjoys experimenting with various ways to build stone arch bridges — including two completed stone arch footbridges. He always has plans for another stone arch bridge down the road. You can find him at StoneArchBridges.com.