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

A Preservation Challenge

By G. R. Evans

View of bridge from downstream side

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. The cost of preservation can be more than compensated for by the economic development benefits of tourism.

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 beautiful 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 and the tall grass prairie.
  • Restore the bridge to its original design and appearance.
  • Make repairs to the structure of the arches, foundation, and balusters. 
  • Improve the bridge site access facilities so it can accommodate visitors comfortably.
  • Develop the bridge site as a tourist attraction, thereby promoting tourism-related business and general economic development in the county.

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 below) and other interested parties aware of the bridge and its historic significance.

Public agency links:

Kansas Preservation Alliance

Kansas State Historical Society

National Register of Historic Places

The bridge even received a small notice in William Least Heat-Moon's book, PrairyErth, an extraordinary study of Chase County's history, places, and people, published in 1991.

And, on the occasion of its 100th anniversary the local newspaper, the Chase County Leader-News, and the Wichita Eagle-Beacon carried appreciative and informative stories on the history of the bridge.

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. Some of this task has been 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 artifact in the heart of the tall grass prairie ecosystem. Phase 2 of the restoration plan will attempt to improve access.

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

Strategy No part of the remedies can be accomplished without resources, both human and financial, volunteer and professional. Financial resources are available from both federal and state programs.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has a program, Transportation Enhancement, which funds 80 percent of the cost of repairing, rehabilitating, repurposing, etc., obsolete transportation facilities such as the Clements Bridge.
There are two catches:
1. The 20 percent not covered by the federal program needs to come from private or local government sources.
2. The application for the federal funds requires an engineering plan detailing the specific actions to be undertaken and, of course, a careful estimate of the cost. The catch is that the engineering plan is not eligible for funding from the federal program.

The Kansas State Historical Society administers the Kansas Heritage Trust Fund which will fund engineering plans for rehabilitating historic structures. It has only one catch: it also funds only 80 percent of the cost, with 20 percent from private or local government sources.

The strategy being employed is to apply for the Heritage Trust support, $24,000 state plus $6,000 private, to fund the engineering plan. With the engineering plan completed, it can be incorporated in the application for Transportation Enhancement  program support for the actual, physical rehabilitation of the bridge.

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. Most urgent of all, at this point, is the need for $6,000 to cover 20 percent of the cost of the engineering plan.

Financial contributions (a tax deductible check) to CCCF/Clements Bridge Fund can be mailed to:

CCCF 
302 Broadway
P.O. Box 160
Cottonwood Falls, Kansas 66845

E-mail: gr5evans@gmail.com

Return to top of page.