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Historical Bridges Of Osawatomie

Kevin Gray

When construction of the Pottawatomie Creek Bridge was slated to begin in 1931, the Miami Republican claimed, “This is the most costly and will be the most pretentious bridge in the county.” But, most likely, this did not matter to anyone living in Osawatomie or on farms in the country, like Opal Eichorn, a Vintage Park resident.

Eichorn, who lived 2 miles north and 2 miles west on a farm, said the old one-lane metal bridge with wooden slats was not fun to cross. “If other cars were crossing, we had to wait, and once we were crossing the boards rattled if you hit them just right. And, if the river was flooding, you couldn’t get across because the bridge went under water,” Eichorn said.

Reaching the pedals of her father’s 1919 black Dodge Touring car with canvas snap-on windows, said Eichorn, was most important and meant she would eventually experience crossing the old rickety bridge and the grand new Creamery bridge. “When I could reach the pedals, this meant I could drive. Mom didn’t drive, so dad needed me to take mom to town. He had to put up hay and work on the farm,” Eichorn said. “Later, dad bought a Model A Ford with roll up windows, which made trips to town and across the river, more fun.”

The Creamery Bridge over the Marais des Cygnes on Eighth Street, which opened in 1931, cost $36,087.84 compared to the Pottawatomie Bridge, built in 1932, which carried a $66,751.56 price tag, but with a mile of roadwork would hit the $114,000 mark.

The Autumn 2010 edition of the Kansas Historical Society’s Reflections magazine included a story headlined, The Bridges of Miami County, and focused entirely on the Creamery and Pottawatomie spans north and south of Osawatomie.

In the Reflections article, readers learn that the Creamery Bridge is 34.5 feet long with three rainbow spans reaching 140 feet high, whereas the Pottawatomie Bridge with similar three rainbow spans reached 120 feet into the air.

The story opens with a reminder to Robert James Waller, an Iowa photographer, who made the covered bridges of Madison County, Iowa, famous with his best-selling book and Golden Globe-nominated film, the Bridges of Madison County; the Reflections piece looks at another Iowan from 80 years earlier, James Barney Marsh, who built bridges.

Marsh gained his bridge building experience, the Reflections story said, beginning in 1882 after graduation from the Iowa State College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts and going to work “in the Des Moines office of the King Bridge Company of Cleveland, Ohio.” His job included “design, sales, and the construction of metal bridges.” Later, he worked for the Kansas City Bridge and Iron Company, until he formed his own company, the Marsh Bridge Company, in 1896.

In 1911, the article said, Marsh patented his “rainbow arch” bridge design. Marsh had already been using steel and added concrete to his structures, the Reflections article said. “This design was unique because the arches could contract along with the bridge floor under varying degrees of moisture and temperature,” according to the article.

In all, what became known as the Marsh Engineering Company, 76 bridges were designed in Kansas from 1917 to 1940. “Of the Marsh bridges in Kansas, 11 are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. They can be found in Chautauqua, Cherokee, Coffey, Geary, Linn, Lyon, Miami, Montgomery, Sedgwick, and Shawnee counties,” the article explained.

Eight triple span rainbow arch designs were built in Kansas, including the two in Osawatomie. The city has the distinction, thanks to the bridges, of having the most National Register bridges in one Kansas county, that being two. “Both bridges are located in Osawatomie and are still open to traffic,” the article reminds readers.

The article made no mention of festivities following the opening of the Creamery Bridge, but a large celebration took place in June 1932 for the Pottawatomie Bridge opening. “The American Legion Juvenile band played, and Hardie Dillinger made a successful balloon ascension and parachute jump, landing just north of the Marais des Cygne,” reported the Osawatomie Graphic. Governor Harry Woodring’s Adjutant General, Milton R. McLean, took care of ribbon cutting duties.

Another Vintage Park resident, Elsie Wilson, remembered how exciting it was when the new bridges were completed. “It was something to see those big arches. I was just a kid when this happened, but this was very exciting because the old bridges rattled so badly,” Wilson said.

Wilson, who usually came into town from Beagle, said she remembered the old Pottawatomie Creek bridge as not being very big. “When we crossed over that old bridge, it did shake and rattle. From there, I remember a turn, and we came into town from the west in those days,” Wilson said. “And, then, when they built the new bridge, you could come in on Sixth Street.”

For more information on The Bridges of Miami County or other Kansas bridges, visit the Kansashistory.kansasmemory.org or kshs.org/resource/national_register. A pdf version of the magazine can be found at: http://www.kshs.org/p/refelections/13301.

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Posted by admin on Feb 16 2011. Filed under News and Updates, Photo Galleries. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

2 Comments for “Historical Bridges Of Osawatomie”

  1. How about telling the story of how/why the cross beams on the lower bridge arches were removed?

  2. I think I remember the bridge from the West that Elsie spoke of. It still stands, to the west of the rainbow bridge going South from Osawatomie. There is no bottom to the old bridge but if you’re daring enough, you can wander out on the framework that’s left. I wouldn’t, but it’s there.

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