Tag Archives: Travel

Stone Arch Bridges

Stone Arch Bridges

Do you love those picturesque stone arch bridges in Cowley County, Kansas? Do we know the website for you to visit!

StoneArchBridges.com is a unique blend of history, physics, how-to, and photography. It offers well-researched information about bridges in Kansas (and other places, as well!) that can be extremely difficult to find anywhere else.

Just to give you a flavor of what this site is about, past topics have included:

One of the many things we love about this site is that the author has really taken the time to get to know the subject. He has traveled Kansas extensively, dug through old newspaper clippings for obscure information, and even built a small stone arch bridge in his own backyard.

Whether your interest is architecture, Kansas tourism, or backyard masonry, you are sure to find something of interest here. (And be sure to browse around for some great photos!)

While you’re at it, you may also be interested in the reading the posts the stone arch bridge expert has written for Homestead on the Range. Enjoy!

Rediscovering the Walz Ford Bridge

Rediscovering the Walz Ford Bridge

Rediscovering Walz Ford Bridge
Polecat Creek Bridge.

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?

The Discovery

Rediscovering Walz Ford Bridge
Rock Creek crossing on Bluestem.

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.

Rediscovering Walz Ford Bridge
Partly buried Walz Ford Bridge.

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.

The History

“…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 Builder

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?

Rediscovering Walz Ford Bridge
In Cowley County, near the Stalter and Rock Creek stone arch bridges, is a ditch full of large, old stones that ends abruptly against the road, which has a gentle hump in it at the spot. Could there be another buried stone arch bridge here?

The Walz Ford Bridge represents one forgotten bridge still buried under the road. How many more stone arch bridges lie hidden under Kansas roadways?

Kansas Historical Markers

Kansas Historical MarkersOver 120 historical markers dot the Kansas landscape, telling the story of our fascinating state.

If you are looking for the Kansas historical markers, the Kansas Historical Society offers a complete listing organized by county. Each entry provides the full text of the marker, along with its address and GPS coordinates.

As you visit the historical markers, you will get an idea of the local context and be introduced to many fascinating facts and stories. Topics include:

  • General Frederick Funston.
  • Medicine Lodge peace treaties.
  • The bluestem pasture region.
  • Historic Abilene.
  • The Battle of Coon Creek.
  • American Indians and the buffalo.
  • The first capitol of Kansas.
  • Turkey red wheat.
  • Overland trails.
  • Chouteau’s Island.
  • Fort Leavenworth.
  • The Mennonites.
  • The Osage Catholic Mission.
  • The geodetic center of North America.
  • The birthplace of farm credit.
  • The Pawnee Indian Village Museum.
  • The arrival of the railroad.
  • The Samson of the Cimarron.
  • Beecher Bibles.
  • Much more!

Reading Kansas historical markers is a great way to relive history as you visit the sites where events occurred. Have fun!

Freeport, Formerly the Smallest Incorporated City in Kansas

Freeport, Formerly the Smallest Incorporated City in KansasKansas lost a state treasure in November 2017. No, it did not burn down, it did not collapse, and it was not razed. It was simply unincorporated.

This landmark was the tiny town of Freeport, the smallest incorporated city in Kansas.


Early History of Freeport

Located in Harper County, Freeport began its existence as Midlothian (a Scottish word meaning “midland”), just two or three miles southeast of the town’s present location. The Midlothian post office opened its doors in April 1879 to serve the local farmers with Benjamin H. Freeman as first postmaster. This post office was conveniently located on a stage line running from Wellington to Medicine Lodge, and was also Freeman’s residence and trading post. A small church and school were located nearby.

In 1885, the St. Louis, Fort Scott & Wichita Railroad (later the Missouri Pacific) arrived. The railroad officials laid out a new townsite nearby and named it Freeport. The precise origin of the name Freeport is unclear—some have suggested it was derived from the name of B.H. Freeman. Or perhaps is was a tribute to the concept of liberty. We may never know.

However, the farmers of Midlothian were determined to compete. Their town was moved up to the tracks, less than a quarter of a mile from Freeport. Midlothian received a town charter only a week after the organization of Freeport, and the two main streets were only two blocks away from each other. The farmers convinced Freeman to move the post office to their townsite. In short order, each town also had its own newspaper, Midlothian being served by the Midlothian Sun and Freeport by the Freeport Leader.

Which town would receive the railroad depot was a matter of fierce contention for a time. Given its railroad-derived origin, perhaps there is little surprise that Freeport won the battle. Once the depot was built, businessmen located their hotels and grain elevators in Freeport instead of Midlothian, and the fate of the latter was sealed.

Midlothian was eventually absorbed. The Midlothian post office was renamed Freeport to match the name of the depot in 1885. The Midlothian Sun was moved to the new townsite in 1886 and received the name of Freeport Tribune, but only survived for a few months afterward. By March, Midlothian was simply known as “West Freeport.” The combined towns boasted a population of 500 in 1886.

Freeport was once a bustling community. Two grain elevators were established, as were three lumberyards, two hotels, a bank, five dry goods stores, nine grocery stores, three drug stores, two hardware stores, two meat markets, four blacksmith shops, and more. The Freeport Leader persisted from 1885 to 1891. At the height of its prosperity, Freeport had an estimated population of 700 in 1892.


Struggles of a Small Incorporated City

But that number had been swelled by hundreds of people waiting to participate in the Oklahoma Land Rush. The largest land run of this period was when the Cherokee Outlet was opened on September 16, 1893. A census in 1895 showed the result—Freeport was down to a population of 54.

Keeping the town incorporated became a perpetual challenge as the population slowly dwindled over the next century. In 1980, the town boasted 12 residents. By 2010, census-takers recorded a population of five.

City officials eventually decided that elections cost too much money. For several decades, Freeport held no elections for city offices. Instead, the mayor and members of the city council were elected by residents of the surrounding Silver Creek Township. The council only met every few months, since there was little business to carry out. Only the city clerk received compensation for his or her services.

The Freeport State Bank, chartered in 1902, was for many years the only state bank in Harper County. It closed in 2009, followed by the post office in 2016.

In the November 2017 election, voters chose to dissolve Freeport by a vote of 4 to 0, giving the honor of being the smallest incorporated city in Kansas to Frederick (Rice County), with a population of 18 in 2010.


Helpful Resource

History of Freeport
Interesting first-hand accounts.

2018 Reading Challenge: Kansas

2018 Reading Challenge: KansasA new year—a new reading challenge!

This year, Kansas is the theme. To complete the challenge, you must read 12 Kansas-related books by the end of 2018:

  1. A book about Kansas prior to 1854.
  2. A book about Kansas flora.
  3. A fictional book written by a Kansas author.
  4. A book about territorial Kansas.
  5. A book about Kansas travel.
  6. A book about Kansas fauna.
  7. A book about Kansas in the late 1800s.
  8. A book of poetry written by a Kansas author.
  9. A book about a famous Kansan.
  10. A book about Kansas in the 1900s.
  11. A book of Kansas photography.
  12. A book about a current issue in Kansas.

Here are the rules:

  • Books in electronic formats count.
  • Both fiction and nonfiction books count.
  • You can read the books in any order.
  • Books cannot be counted twice, even if they fit into more than one category.

If you can complete a book a month, you will be able to complete the challenge easily.

Stuck? Sign up for On the Range, our free weekly country living update (learn more). In the last issue of every month, we’ll suggest a book for one of the categories as a hint.

Let us know what you’re reading this year! We’d love to hear from you!

Helpful Resource

The Homestead Bookshelf
Looking for a good book? Start here.

Kansas Ag Connection

Kansas Ag ConnectionLooking for a good way to keep up with daily agriculture-related headlines? Give Kansas Ag Connection a try!

Subscribers to On the Range, our weekly country living update (read more), may already be familiar with this site as a source for some of our headlines. There’s a reason for that. Kansas Ag Connection is a clutter-free aggregator of news stories and press releases of interest to farmers small and large across the state.

Kansas Ag Connection offers a way to keep up with the latest stories on:

  • USDA news.
  • Updates from the governor and state legislature.
  • Health issues currently affecting Kansans.
  • KU and K-State research on health, nature, and agricultural topics.
  • Press releases from Kansas-based companies.
  • State and regional crop and weather reports.
  • Conferences and workshops coming to Kansas.
  • Ron Wilson’s Kansas Profile column, featuring Kansas entrepreneurs with rural roots.

Links are also provided to more headlines from neighboring states, across the nation, and around the world.

Highly recommended!

El Cuartelejo: Rediscovery

El Cuartelejo: RediscoveryArchaeologists have determined that the ultimate cause of El Cuartelejo’s demise was fire, as testified by the remains of charred posts and corn seeds. The Comanches who later took up residence near the pueblo had a legend that the ruins were struck by lightning.

In any case, for the next hundred years, the walls slowly crumbled and vanished, leaving the pueblo to be buried in a grave of blowing soil. The location was eventually forgotten.


Enter the Steele Family

The Steele family arrived in 1888. They did not discover the fascinating history of their new homestead right away, but sometime in the 1890s the father of the family, Herbert L. Steele, ran across the irrigation ditches. These he quickly put to use watering his garden.

What Steele found next is still debated to this day. But when he discovered other artifacts up on the old hill, whether they were parched corn kernels unearthed by ground squirrels or a large collection of arrowheads and pieces of pottery, he quickly realized that he owned something unusual.

Accordingly, two archaeologists from the University of Kansas, S.W. Williston and H.T. Martin, paid the Steele homestead a visit in 1898. While probing the structure, they noted walls 18 to 24 inches thick, with no apparent openings for doors or windows. How would the inhabitants come and go from the building? There was one answer—through the roof!

The idea that this building might have been a pueblo was further confirmed by the discovery of charred post ends that might once have belonged to a ladder. The archaeologists also found broken pottery similar in style to that of the Southwest during the late 1600s and early 1700s, and they found pieces of obsidian, a volcanic stone common in the native lands of the Taos and the Picuris. Historians quickly realized the implications of the discovery—this might be El Cuartelejo!

While the Steele family made full use of their land, including the parts influenced by the Pueblo refugees, they were careful not to abuse it. They dreamed of someday creating a public park out of their homestead. Accordingly, in the 1920s they donated the pueblo site to the Daughters of the American Revolution, who in 1925 erected a granite marker on the ruins (literally; the marker was later moved). The D.A.R. still own the rights to the ruins. The rest of the Steele homestead went to the Kansas Forestry, Fish, and Game Commission in 1928. A dam for a recreational lake was built the next year.


El Cuartelejo: RediscoverySpeculation

Not all historians were willing to accept the theory that the ruins discovered by the Steele family were part of El Cuartelejo. Based on daily marching distances listed in the expedition diary of Juan de Ulibarrí, some hypothesized that El Cuartelejo was actually in eastern Colorado.

In 1939 and 1940, Smithsonian Institution archaeologist Waldo Wedel paid a visit to the site. He turned up additional artifacts that further confirmed the identity of the ruins. For example, he discovered pieces of pipes, decorated in a style similar to that of Southwestern work of the late 1600s and early 1700s.

However, Wedel found far more Apache artifacts than Pueblo artifacts on the site, including some otherwise distinctly Apache ware that was tempered with mica, similar to the custom of the Southwestern tribes. Therefore, he concluded, the pueblo did not belong to Pueblos, but to Apaches who had contact with Southwestern Indians and who mimicked their customs. If there were Pueblos at the site, either they must have adopted Apache tools or they had remained for a very short time.

However, no evidence for a pueblo in eastern Colorado could be found. Nor was there much evidence of French and Spanish activity in that area. While Spanish records did not pinpoint El Cuartelejo precisely at the location of the Scott County ruins, the Steele discovery fit far better with the maps and descriptions in existence than any other site that had been found or proposed. Furthermore, the Scott County location for El Cuartelejo corresponded with various well-traveled Native American trails that the Spaniards likely would have used.

Unfortunately, El Cuartelejo was still not preserved as the Steele family might have wished. Local artifact collectors did some amateur work on the ruins, but turned up little of value. Furthermore, these would-be archaeologists did considerable damage to the pueblo, digging through the floor and destroying more subtle features. The landmark also continued to deteriorate due to weather for several decades.


Preservation Efforts

El Cuartelejo was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1964, opening new doors for restoration possibilities.

Further excavation was carried out under the supervision of Tom Witty of the Kansas State Historical Society beginning in 1969. The entire floor was disinterred, revealing hearthstones and posts, not to mention more potsherds. Witty was more thorough than the archaeologists before him and revealed the complete outline of the pueblo, only partially found up to that time.

While examining artifacts, archaeologists also started work on an interpretive exhibit, putting El Cuartelejo into historical context. The walls were rebuilt and stabilized up to a height of one or two feet to clearly show the floor plan of the pueblo, consisting of seven rooms. Signs were put up to explain the site for park visitors.

But the previous restoration efforts have failed the test of time. The National Park Service listed El Cuartelejo as an “at risk” site in 2004. The walls continue to crumble in the unforgiving Kansas weather.

All agree that the ruins must be preserved. What the future will bring to El Cuartelejo is yet to be determined, however, as the Kansas State Historical Society, the Scott County Historical Society, and the present-day Picuris tribe continue to iron out a solution.


Helpful Resources

“Ambushed at Dawn: An Archaeological Analysis of the Catastrophic Defeat of the 1720 Villasur Expedition”
Chapter 4 of this thesis makes a solid case for the Scott County location of El Cuartelejo.

“Remains of the Indian pueblo ‘El Cuartelejo’ in Scott County, Kansas, USA”
How El Cuartelejo looks today.

My Kansas

My KansasBack in 2011, the Kansas Department of Commerce, Travel and Tourism Division, published a spectacular 160-page collection of best-of-Kansas scenes by the best Kansas photographers. This book, My Kansas: A Photographic Journey Across the Sunflower State, may now be easier to borrow than to buy. But if you can find a copy, by all means enjoy it.

This beautiful book includes photos in the following categories:

  • Small-town treasures.
  • Wildlife wonders.
  • Roads to discovery.
  • Classic flavors.
  • Elbow room.
  • Kansas legacies.
  • Cowboy country.

Scenes of architecture, birds, harvests, sunsets, and more are sure to delight and inspire. The photos are well captioned, and some are embellished with fitting quotes.

If you love Kansas scenery, you will love My Kansas. It can make a delightful gift for a fellow Kansan. Or put a copy on your coffee table, conveniently within reach of out-of-state guests.

Get Ready for December 2016

Get Ready for December 2016Christmas will be here before you know it! Prepare tasty treats and heartfelt gifts from your own homegrown offerings, and snuggle up on the couch for a little storytelling.

  1. Retell the story of Sod Corn Jones.
  2. Read Scripture passages about the meaning of Christmas.
  3. Make a sweet potato beetle.
  4. Encourage your child to start an EcoJournal.
  5. Give a weather diary this Christmas.
  6. Create homemade gifts from the heart.
  7. Cook up some stovetop apples.
  8. Put a sweet potato casserole on the table.
  9. Visit the Christmas City of the High Plains.
  10. Check out our favorite posts from 2013, 2014, and 2015.