Paradise Bridge: Its Completion, and the Role of Walter Sharp

Paradise Bridge
Paradise Bridge

Mr. Saum began laying stone for Paradise Bridge in the spring of 1901. As was typical in Kansas for such structures, the stone was quarried not far from the bridge — a couple of miles away, in this instance.

Construction

Already in April, a petition requested another stone arch bridge for Russell, south and slightly east of Gorham. As Paradise Bridge was far from complete, it is safe to say there was some enthusiasm for stone bridges!

Work went on steadily with Paradise Bridge. In June, in response to a complaint that The Russell Record was being rather quiet on the topic of stone arch bridges, the newspaper advised patience. The Record pointed out that Paradise Bridge was rapidly nearing completion. Until it was finished, there was little need to say anything. The reasons for building stone arch bridges outweighed the reasons for not building them, and the newspaper had plenty of material on that question. It concluded by advising that its readers “wait and see.” About this time a Paradise correspondent to The Russell Informer stated that Mr. Saum was doing excellent work on the stone bridge.

By the end of July, those on The Russell Record announced their intention to visit Paradise to attend a picnic on August 28, 1901. One of their purposes would be to see the new stone arch bridge. Mr. Saum had the arch completed by August 17. He expected to have “the wing, walks, and everything completed by the 28th,” according the August 17 edition of The Russell Record.

Almost Finished

Though the bridge was not yet complete, it was a big attraction in Paradise, as The Russell Record observed on the last day of August, 1901. The newspaper noted how ponderous the bridge was, with its 50-foot span. However, The Record raised a single concern that the bridge was not wide enough for a header to cross over. The header, so important to farms, was a necessary factor to reckon with, it noted. However, the county surveyor observed that at 16 feet the bridge was wider than the iron bridges the stone bridges were to replace.

Confidence remained high, though it was September before the falsework supporting the massive arch was removed. However, it appeared that there was little doubt about the success of the bridge. Already Lucas was pushing for a stone arch bridge over East Wolf Creek. (Lucas would later gain more attention when a resident began a certain monumental and artistic cement project outside his house for which the town is remembered to this day.)

Paradise Bridge was almost done, though the lack of a little more stone delayed the work. However, on September 28, The Russell Record received pictures of Paradise Bridge that the paper said it intended to print soon. And, on October 12, The Russell Record contained the simple statement: “Paradise has a permanent bridge.” The Paradise Bridge was, for all practical purposes, finished.

Evaluating Paradise Bridge

So how did the bridge turn out? It was certainly a massive and excellent structure, but rather expensive. The total cost by October 12 was $3,810. According to the county surveyor there were a few more items to be added that would bring the cost closer to $4,000. The Russell Record reminded people that the bridge represented something of a learning curve. The next stone bridge they built would cost quite a bit less, especially as the formwork for Paradise Bridge’s arch could be reused.

On October 19, the paper noted that Mr. Saum had been in town and had been distributing, in exchange for goods, the county bridge fund. Keeping the money at home was a huge advantage of stone bridge construction.

The Russell Record’s Assessment

The real write-up for Paradise Bridge appeared in The Russell Record the following year, on January 11. This article featured a picture of Paradise Bridge, along with an interesting summary of the cost of the bridge. As The Record said:

After many years the efforts of THE RECORD to get the people of the county interested in the question of stone bridges, have been rewarded and the fifty-foot arch spanning the Paradise, at Paradise stations is the first result.

This bridge is a massive structure, containing stone enough to bridge the Saline, and the cost was double what it should have been, but it will prove cheaper than an iron structure, for no person now living in the county will see the day when it will need repairs, more than re-pointing.

Every cent paid for constructing the bridge (labor) and for the stone used in it will be spent in the county, and already some substantial improvements have been made with the money paid for this structure.

Below we give an itemized statement showing the cost of the bridge:

Removing old bridge and prospecting for foundation for the new bridge $14.75

Excavating, masonry, cement and grading 2,119.12

Stone, delivered—220 cords 1,209.23

Lumber, nails and bolts for false work 397.30

Erecting and removing false work 188.75

Gaspipe rail and labor 59.30

County surveyor’s charges 82.00

Total $4,070.45

It is said by parties who are in a position to know that the cost of this bridge is at least $2,000 higher than it should have been. The item of stone—220 cords—could have been reduced to 100 cords, which, at $11 per cord, makes a big reduction. The blasting of about 100 yards of rock, at 75 cents per yard, and filling the space with loose rock and dirt, at 30 cents per yard, was money thrown away.

The cost of the falsework—erecting, removing, etc. $586.05—need not have been over $300.00.

Walter Sharp and Russell County Bridge Building

This gives a fair idea of what went into building Paradise Bridge. But something towards the end of the same article in The Russell Record was interesting: Mr. Guntle had been in contact with a well-known stone arch bridge builder, namely Walter Sharp.

Walter Sharp explained to Mr. Guntle how Cowley County had given him the contract to build their first stone arch bridge, a 36-foot span over Timber Creek, for a mere $925. His recommendation for Russell was to come and see for themselves. This was the advice he gave to Greenwood County before they built Gleason Ford Bridge, with the result that the Greenwood commissioners viewed some of the stone arch bridges of Butler County to bolster their confidence. This was also the advice he gave to the Cowley commissioners, and they had toured the bridges of both Butler and Greenwood counties, then ordered one built over Timber Creek.

Paradise Bridge
Gorham Bridge

It is not surprising, perhaps, that Walter Sharp built the second stone arch bridge Russell County ordered. His costs were even lower than Mr. Saum’s (Mr. Saum bid, too), and he received the contract. His bridge was a success, spanning Big Creek south and slightly east of Gorham with two 36-foot arches. Walter Sharp’s charge of $1,155.00 was much less than the cost of Paradise Bridge. He proved to Russell that stone arch bridges could be affordable. Not surprisingly, by this time, stone arch bridges were standard for Russell County.

Walter Sharp’s Big Creek Bridge, by the way, still carries the road even now.

A Definite Success

Paradise Bridge, though expensive, served its purpose. It proved to Russell that well-built stone arch bridges could last much longer than steel bridges. Though widened with a cantilevered concrete slab, the bridge still faithfully carries Paradise Road over Paradise Creek, well over a century later. Paradise Bridge is a tribute to the efforts of the Russell County commissioners of 1901.

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.