Historic Baldwin bridge getting a makeover

City is receiving $2.2 million in federal funding for downtown

Downtown Baldwin will undergo a makeover thanks to about $2.2 million in federal funding funneled through the state highway department.

Baldwin must produce about $500,000 in matching funds for the projects, which will improve streetscapes in the city’s downtown business district and rehabilitate a century-old bridge with an intriguing past.

“The bridge is something worth saving,” town historian Katherine Kelly said. “It’s pretty important as far as travel goes.”

KDOT is providing Baldwin with $984,000 to rehabilitate the historic Women’s Bridge, which is located along High Street between 10th and 11th streets.

The bridge was built after the town elected a woman mayor and an all-female City Council, an unusual development at that point in American history.

Baldwin women ran for the city’s top elected positions in 1889 after becoming fed up with having to cross Tauy Creek, which is located between the train depot and the town’s center. Crossing the creek meant muddied long dresses and petticoats.

One of the reasons the women were successful in their political endeavor was because Baldwin women were allowed to participate in the city’s elections, Baldwin librarian Becky McMillen said.

In 1887, Kansas women won the right to vote in municipal elections. But nationally, women didn’t receive the right to vote until 1920, almost 30 years later.

Newspaper accounts of the time stated that people were surprised by the outcome and the election results were declared “an overwhelming defeat of the masculine power.”

A minivan passes over a historic limestone and brick bridge located in Baldwin that will be rehabilitated through a state project. The bridge was built in 1890 after an all-female City Council became fed up with dirtying their dresses while crossing a creek.

“It’s pretty amazing that these women were able to get elected,” McMillen said. “I think the bridge is a testament to what they did.”

The women put forth efforts to construct the Women’s Bridge and sidewalks in the community. When constructed, the bridge cost about $209.

McMillen said the bridge is one of the few parts of Baldwin that has ties back to the all-women council. Many of the ordinances the all-women council passed were repealed in 1890 with the election of a new mayor and city council.

Ordinances passed by the all-women council included prohibiting the sale of alcohol and making it illegal for farm animals and children to run at large throughout the city.

The Women’s Bridge and the Baldwin’s downtown project are two of 42 projects that will happen throughout the state thanks to the federal dollars.

Rehabilitating the Women’s Bridge will improve safety and deal with some erosion problems, Baldwin City Administrator Jeff Dingman said.

“There’s been some patchwork on it, but it really is in sorry shape,” he said. KDOT will provide $984,000 for the bridge rehabilitation project.

The $1.2 million designated by KDOT for the downtown project will be used to adorn the streets with planters, trees, brick elements and lighting. It also will help improve handicapped accessibility, Dingman said.

“It’s exciting to have both projects funded,” Dingman said. “We were told at one point that the downtown project might not get the funds, but that KDOT would likely fund the bridge project. Now, we have to get busy and figure out how to finance the projects.”

KDOT received 67 applications for local units of government for funding consideration totaling more than $59.4 million. Forty-two projects were selected at a cost of $44.7 million.