History of the Bridge

 

Newspaper article in the Chase County Leader-News November 27, 1986.

Grand old landmark hits century mark

Clements Stone Arched Bridge 1886-1986

By Donita M. Rogers

Cedar Point, Kansas

Happy Birthday!

It would be a shame to let the year pass without commemorating the 100th birthday of one of the grand old landmarks of Kansas, the Clements Stone Arched Bridge. With its one hundred twenty-seven foot length and twenty-one foot five inch span rise, it is the largest stone arched bridge still standing, let alone still carrying regular traffic.

 

In this day of timed obsolescence one stands in awe of the fact that 100 years ago our forefathers, without the help of bulldozers, cranes, high loaders, arc welders or power saws and chisels, built this grand old structure to serve man a long, long time. One hundred years doesn't sound so long until you start looking for information about its construction. Suddenly you realize that no one is still alive from that time, and few family members remain of those who possibly worked on it.

Obsolete?

The last few years have seen a push for a new bridge. Not because it appears to have greatly deteriorated, but because it does not fit into modern standards. Its approach is a bit dangerous with curve and high center, and its sixteen foot seven inch width doesn't accommodate some modern farm machinery. Yet it carries semis loaded with grass fat cattle with hardly a shudder; a conveyance probably beyond the imagination of the artisans who build the bridge. Time marches on with its changes, but it seems that to build a new bridge and route the traffic around the old bridge would be an insult to those great old craftsmen.

 

There have been numerous fender-benders, but the only reported death on the bridge was that of a gentleman being struck by lightning as he drove across it with his team and wagon. It is possible to pass on the bridge! In researching this article, the author found two people who swore they had done this. With its sixteen foot seven inch roadway there certainly is little room to spare. Maybe it's actually safer now that we are driving smaller cars. Most things come full circle, you know.

Nationally Recognized, Locally Acknowledged

Though the bridge is on the National Register of Historical Places, there is no sign anywhere on the highway to tell people they are driving by one of the grandest structures in Kansas. And that it is! You know this if you have every taken time to stop and walk down under the beautiful arches, and felt the massive size of the stones. Thanks to Mr. And Mrs. Neufer, the west side of the bridge is kept neatly manicured so that you can walk under it. It would be nice if the east side could be cleaned up too.

Constructed from Local Stone

Little information about the actual construction of the bridge could be found other than that William Dawson, Bert Dawson's grandfather, built the frames which held the stones during the construction. These were mostly made of locally cut walnut. This lumber was later used in the construction of the Shaft livery stable in Clements. The rock used in the bridge was reported to have come from the J. W. Copes quarry just north of Clements and the Oscar Duehn quarry on the south side of the river.

 

Park Mauderly's grandfather, John Park, was a teamster who worked on the bridge for a while. He quit because the foreman complained about how often he rested his horses when they were pulling stone boats from the quarry to the bridge in the mud. He said that he had tough horses but he wasn't going to kill them for anybody. He, also, said they had swung the rocks up on gin poles.

Modifications

The rocks of the banisters have been removed and replaced at least once when a house was moved from Clements to the Alfred Mercer place in the Homestead community. Also, in the 1920's, the west side of the middle support was reworked with the addition of a wedge-shaped footing and column to help keep logs from collecting and strengthen the upriver side.

From the Official Record

The following is a summary of information taken from the commissioners minutes of 1886 and 1887: On July 8, 1886, the Chase County board of commissioners authorized the county clerk to advertise for sealed bids for the excavation and masonry of a stone arched bridge across the Cottonwood River on the John Patton road at or near the town of Clements, Kansas. Bids were opened on Tuesday, August 3, 1886, at 10 o'clock a.m. Most of the bids were broken down according to the various processes necessary in the building of the structure on a per cubic yard basis. One bid of $8,888.00 was submitted by P.E. and C.R. Lane for building the bridge complete. Those submitting bids were David Barrett and Alex Winton; David Rettiger and Bros.; P.E. and C.R. Lane of Topeka; and L.P. Santy and Co. All of the bids submitted on this date were rejected, and new bids were called for in accordance with the same [some text missing] being the lowest. On November 18, 1887, the board met in special meeting and awarded a contract to L.P. Santy and Co. to furnish material and to build the approach walls to the bridge at $3.7 [some text missing] per cubic yard. Also, at this time, the clerk was ordered to advertize for bids for grading and filling of the approaches. These bids were opened on December 5, 1887. Those submitting bids were F. J. Holmes, A. J. Penrod and J. W. Ray; W. [?] Holmes, Lutes and Winters; W. W. Stephenson; D. Biggam; J. G. Fari [some text missing], A. M. Ice and N. M. Patton; and Joseph L. Crawford. The contract was awarded to A. J. Penrod and J. W. Ray at 9 ½ cents per cubic yard. The identity of the architect was not definitely ascertain. It could have been D. Y. Hamill as that name appears on the bridge plaque, or John Frew, County Surveyor, who drew up the plans for the approach walls.

The Cost

Since no further information was readily available, it is assumed that the bridge was completed in the early part of 1888. It, also, has been reported to have cost around $12,000.00 completed. Maybe the commissioners should have accepted the $8,888.00 bid for bridge complete.

Perspective

Maybe one hundred years isn't really long. Maybe nothing really ever changes, or maybe its just human nature that never changes. Anyway, it's nice once in a while to look at something and know that it was made to last a long time. Long live the Clements Bridge.

 

 

Note

As you can see, the newspaper clipping I copied had some flaws. If you can supply the missing text of this news article please contact me.

 

 

 

 

Article from the Wichita Eagle-Beacon. Date estimated to be 1988.

Arches of Clements bridge support uncommon history

by Steve Harper, Photography Editor

 

Office of the county clerk, Chase County, Kan., July 13, 1886.

Notice is hereby given that sealed bids will be received at the office of county clerk of the county and state aforesaid, for the excavation and masonry of o stone arched bridge across the Cottonwood River at or near Clements, Chase County, Kans. at what is known as the John Patton Ford.

 

CLEMENTS — It has been 102 years since the Chase County Commission let bids for a bridge that has outlasted the commissioners and generations after them.

 

The Clements bridge is the largest and one of the oldest limestone bridges in Kansas — old and important enough to be placed on the National Historic Register in 1976.

 

Built to serve a farm-market road, it has survived significantly better than the town it was named for. Clements, once a bustling little town next to the railroad and U.S. 50, has burned down, been rebuilt, been flooded repeatedly and ultimately fallen victim to changing economic times.

 

The bridge, however, continues to be a structure of enormous strength and endurance. Its only quarrel with modern times is its narrow 14-foot roadway.

 

Its twin arches also have a pedigree of sorts. Consider: The nearby limestone quarry from which it was built also produced most of the stone for the Kansas Statehouse, Topeka’s city auditorium, a number of buildings at Fort Leavenworth and Fort Riley and much of the stone for the Kansas State Industrial Reformatory at Hutchinson.

 

Built by L. P. Santy & Co. for the paltry sum of $8,888, its precision-built twin arches have withstood everything the raging Cottonwood River could throw at them, and patiently wait for more.

 

In a world in which almost everything changes, it’s a pleasant experience to visit the Clements bridge, sit for a spell and imagine a time when things cost less, people worker harder and time moved more slowly.

 

 

 

 

Note

As you can see, there is some disagreement about details: did the bridge cost $8,888 or ‘about $12,000', is the roadway 14 feet wide or 16 feet, 7 inches (I measure 17 feet, but it varies), and did the stone come from two different quarries on opposite sides of the valley, or just one?

Agreement

Both articles agree on the central premise that the bridge is a significant part of our man-made heritage; something that was built for another time, but that has much to contribute to the citizens of today.

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