The Clements Stone Arch Bridge
An Engineering Masterpiece in the Flint Hills of Kansas

A Preservation Challenge


By G. R. Evans


 

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Invitation

Welcome to a graceful 19th Century gem of engineering design and construction, the Clements Stone Arch Bridge. This web site will show you that the bridge deserves and needs careful preservation.



 

Each of the two arches in the image above spans 19.6 m (63.5 ft). The center pier is 2.34 m (7.7 ft) wide at its narrowest point. The total length of the stone work balusters along the approaches and over the arches is 76.5 m (251 ft).

 

The bridge location, in the Flint Hills of Kansas, near the Tall Grass Prairie Preserve, spans the Cottonwood River in Chase County, Kansas, near the always tiny, but now completely gone town of Clements.

Purpose

This web site has been posted to do a number of things:

◆ Inform as many people as possible about the bridge so they can see for themselves the engineering heritage of Chase County and the Flint Hills region.

◆ Restore the bridge to its original design and appearance.

◆ Improve the bridge site so it can accommodate visitors comfortably.

◆ Make repairs to the structure of the arches, foundation, and balusters.

Notice

The bridge does not lack notice! In 1976 it achieved listing on the National Register of Historic Places, ninety year after its construction and while it still carried traffic. There are a number of public agencies (see links) and other interested parties aware of the bridge and its significance.

 

Public agency links:

Kansas Preservation Alliance

Kansas State Historical Society

National Register of Historic Places

Problems

However, in spite of its national as well as local notice, the bridge has some problems. There are four kinds:

 

Removal and misplacement of stones. For some very good reasons people have occasionally removed stones from the balusters (the high sides of the bridge that extend above the roadway), but put them back incorrectly or did not put them back at all! The casual observer may not notice it, after all the bridge hasn't fallen down, but this web site includes convincing evidence of misplaced stones.

 

Lack of accommodations for visitors. There are no accommodations whatever for visitors, whether they come one by one or by the busfull: no parking, no pathways to viewpoints, no restroom, no trash can, etc.

 

Maintenance. Since the bridge no longer carries traffic, the County no longer does routine maintenance. However, a structure of this type suffers from erosion & water infiltration, freezing & thawing, and intrusive vegetation, resulting in visible deterioration.

 

Damage. It is commonplace in times of high water for fallen tree branches to float down the river and smash against the upstream side of the bridge, usually causing no damage whatever. But in the summer of 2009 it must have been a whole tree that hit the southwest wing wall! No one witnessed the event. A large number of stones were knocked loose, and they along with part of the south approach roadbed washed into the river.

Remedy

A restoration plan has been prepared to guide the work needed to make the bridge attractive and accessible to visitors for years to come.

 

First: restore the bridge's design integrity. his task has been largely completed. It was necessary to return the stones to their original positions: to accomplish this we needed to determine which stones have been moved, or lost, then sort out where each misplaced stone belongs, so that the art of the structure is again visible. The result: a very large, three dimensional stone puzzle, with the pieces weighing well over a ton. Phase 1 of the restoration plan addresses this remedy.

 

Second: present the bridge to the public so that anyone can come, see, and appreciate this marvelous and unique structure. Phase 2 of the restoration plan will attempt to improve access.

 

Third: examine the structural integrity of the bridge and repair any structural defects, returning it to its original strength. Phase 3, somewhat sketchy at this point, deals with long-term strength and stability of the bridge.

 

Forth: establish some means of maintaining and managing the bridge and adjacent area in an attractive manner, while minimizing any burden on the local government.

Appeal

If you have an interest in any subject related to this bridge please contact the e-mail address below and share your observations and comments. Related subjects would include architecture, bridge engineering, transportation history, preservation technology, 19th-century Kansas history, tourism, economic development, tallgrass prairie ecology, etc., etc.

 

 

 

E-mail: gr5evans@gmail.com


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