Archive for Monday, March 21, 2011

Barton County evaluating historic stone bridges built by WPA

March 21, 2011

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— An effort is under way in Barton County to repair a number of historic stone bridges built by laborers with the Works Project Administration.

County officials don't have an estimate yet what the repairs will cost, but the Barton County Commission recently authorized Kirkham, Michael and Associates, an Ellsworth engineering firm, to determine what needs to be done and prepare designs for the work.

The seven bridges, clustered in the Claflin area, were all designated National Historic Places in 2008.

"They're all stone arch bridges, made from cut stone," said County Engineer Clark Rusco. "Some were single span and some double barrel."

Construction crews used limestone to build bridges where it was abundant, thus their prevalence in one part of the county, Rusco said. Otherwise, metal truss bridges were the most popular structures at the time - the late 1930s and early '40s.

"They're up pretty close to the Barton County line, where the stone is close to the surface," he said.

All of the bridges are on less traveled township roads, Rusco said, and the beauty of their handiwork isn't readily apparent when driving over them. Their stone sidewalls, which serve as guardrails, are the only visible structure from the road.

"You need to get out to look, off to the side," he said.

Some of the bridges are all stone, which was locally quarried and retains tool markings, while others have stone foundations and concrete decks. All show their construction date, either in a decorative keystone or stamped into concrete on the bridge.

President Franklin Roosevelt established the Work Projects Administration, or WPA, in 1935 to provide jobs during the Great Depression. Between 1938 and 1943, when the agency was disbanded, workers constructed some 78,000 bridges and 651,000 miles of road around the nation, as well as numerous buildings.

The bridge restoration work could include repairing damaged stones, replacing missing ones and replacing grout between the stones, Rusco said.

"A couple have stones displaced, and the load limits were down," Rusco said of what prompted the repair effort. "Two of them have five-ton load limits. They need to be reset, re-grouted, and then they can go back to legal loads."

Floods in 2007 accelerated deterioration on some of the bridges, which have not had significant repairs since they were constructed, Rusco said.

"That's when we started to look at them a little closer," he said.

The majority of the bridges cross Beaver Creek or its tributaries. Two are located on Coal Creek.

Once the plans are drawn, which Rusco estimated would take a couple of months, the Kansas Historic Society will have to review them to ensure they meet historical restoration requirements. Then the county will likely let bids for the repair work in the fall.

Representatives of the engineering firm, the state historical society and the county surveyed the bridges Wednesday to begin the process.

"I don't know if we can afford to fix them all," Rusco said, noting the work would be done with existing county funds. "But at least we'll have the design work done."

An eighth bridge in the county also designated as historic is an iron truss bridge constructed in 1887 by P.E. Lang across Walnut Creek near Heizer. The bridge is among the oldest still standing in the state.

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