Though Butler County was a pioneer in stone arch bridge building in southern Kansas, its fame was eclipsed by Cowley County’s stone bridges. The reason for this is obvious—Cowley County built many massive stone arch bridges. Yet, in quantity, Butler County had more stone arch crossings on the road than Cowley, a fact which still holds true to this day.
The primary difference between Butler County and Cowley County was that, whereas Cowley built massive stone arch bridges everywhere, breaking records left and right, Butler County was a little less ambitious in stone bridge size, primarily building single-arch bridges, often of relatively short spans.
However, Butler County did receive some fame for its stone arch culverts, which are simply small stone bridges with spans less than 20 feet. Individual townships found stone arch culverts to be a highly economical way to cross small streams. The reason the county was famous for its stone arch culverts was the fact that, between the Butler County townships, literally hundreds of culverts were built!
These days, there are very few known stone arch culverts in Butler County. One difficulty with stone arch culverts is that they tend not to be particularly noticeable from the road due to their small size. (Some of the stone culverts were a mere 3 feet in span.) Furthermore, no inventory of culverts is required, meaning that they are not well documented in the least. Another problem with the early Butler County stone arch culverts is the simple fact that they were often a little small for the stream, and sometimes the workmanship was not the best, leading to their replacement.
Higdon and Poe’s Culvert
While stone arch culverts remain either rare or largely undiscovered in Butler, two notable examples remain: the Walz Ford Bridge and Higdon and Poe’s little stone arch culvert over the Whitewater River. While Walz Ford Bridge was actually a county job built by Walter Sharp, Higdon and Poe’s bridge was a township job. This bridge is a classic example of how township culverts were built in Butler County.
Located on NW 115th Street about 3.5 miles due north of Potwin on the Whitewater River, Higdon and Poe’s 16-foot-span stone arch culvert still carries the road, though concrete work has since been added on top. The concrete helps it better handle being submerged during any kind of flood. The contract for this culvert was advertised for by Plum Grove Township and appeared in the Walnut Valley Times in the latter part of 1907. The bridge advertisement read as follows:
The undersigned will receive sealed bids for the erection of a 16 foot stone arch bridge across Whitewater creek, between the north and south half of section 5, Plum Grove township, until 12 o’clock [p.?] m. September 14, 1907. Plans and specifications for said bridge may be seen at county clerk’s office or at A. N. Claassen’s near the bridge site. Right reserved to reject any or all bids. —G. E. Garrison, Trustee of Plum Grove township.Walnut Valley Times, September 7, 1907.
As the September 20, 1907, edition of The Potwin Argus informs us (and a brief check of a 1905 plat map confirms), the contract for this little culvert was awarded to two local Potwin men: J.H. Higdon and S.R. Poe. The same edition of the Argus also informed its readers, “J. H. Higdon and S. R. Poe visited Eldorado Sept. 18 to purchase tools for use on their bridge contract.”
Little else on this new bridge, for which Higdon and Poe had to buy tools to build, can be readily found. However, it appears that Higdon and Poe were regularly in the construction business, for the same edition of The Potwin Argus had yet another fact about Higdon and Poe: namely, they had completed building the foundation for somebody’s house. The August 23, 1907, edition of The Potwin Argus reveals that Higdon was the city clerk of Potwin. S.R. Poe was from Potwin and was the brother of S.A. Poe, who also built stone arch bridges
The Era of Township Stone Arch Culverts in Butler
As is the case with Higdon and Poe’s culvert, township stone arch culverts in Butler County were often not built by the “big” well-known contractors of the time (such as Walter Sharp); they were often built by local residents of the area, people like Higdon and Poe. In fact, one person, who was awarded several contracts for stone arch culverts in Douglass Township, remarked that he thought he might as well start building stone arch culverts as “they are now all the go!”
Higdon and Poe’s Bridge Today
One obvious fact about Higdon and Poe’s bridge is that it is rather small for the river. As mentioned above, concrete was added on top, and the overall view of the bridge rather reminds one of a low-water crossing, though with a stone arch opening. The masonry on the bridge appears to be good quality, as evidenced by the fact that the bridge is still standing and in use, despite its highly insufficient waterway and regular submersions.
The culvert is rather scenic as a whole, and the area peaceful. Overall, this noteworthy township culvert, over a century old, is a definite testimony to Higdon and Poe’s skilled work in erecting this modest bridge over the treacherous Whitewater River.
Stone Arch Bridges of Butler and Cowley Counties
A complete listing of Butler and Cowley stone arch bridges, along with some basic facts, from the stone arch bridge expert.