Bridges of Cowley County: A Guided Tour of Stone Bridges Produced by Jim Kelly
GARY GACKSTATTER, COWLEY COUNTY COMMUNITY COLLEGE: I just think that these people thought differently than we do now. They didn't have such a time-oriented thought process as we do now. The buildings, the architecture, everything from then was unnecessarily grand. And unnecessarily beautiful. And they put a lot of detail work into it that they surely didn't have to do. And it cost them time. But now these things are still standing, they hold their spirit of the people that carved them. and that's my main thought about them, is that here these guys had no idea bout what was going to be driving over them 100 years later and they still serve us today.
GARY GACKSTATTER IS AN ARTIST AND MUSIC INSTRUCTOR AT COWLEY COUNTY COMMUNITY COLLEGE. BUT AT LEAST TWICE A YEAR, GARY AND HIS WIFE SHANNON ORGANIZE PUBLIC TOURS OF THE COUNTY'S HISTORIC STONE BRIDGES.
GARY: I did a spread for the newspaper. When the Bridges of Madison County came out, I told them, I said there are some pretty bridges out here. Why don't we do a newspaper spread called the Bridges of Cowely County. And so they went for it and in the process I found one of the stone bridges and I couldn't believe how beautiful it was and in talking with older people in cafes and rural postmen, I found out there were a lot more.
GARY'S INTEREST IN THE BRIDGES TURNED INTO AN ART PROJECT, WHICH EVENTUALLY LED TO THE ORGANIZED TOURS.
GARY: Just started out from people's interest in my drawings. And one time I had a sign up at an art show that I did. We had several hundred people show up for it so we decided to do it as a fundraiser for the Art Center there in Ark City. The Denton Art Center. And it's kinda just blossomed since then so it's been going on for four years. Well, we go out, one in the fall and once in the spring and we do special tours for larger groups. This last spring I've done a total of five tours for different groups. And we've had to add one just for the locals because people from all over the state have been calling in to get into these tours. We've had people from all over the country. Missouri, Iowa, Wyoming, Oklahoma, Texas, We've had all kinds of people on this tour.
GARY: I think it's just their intrinsic beauty. Not only are they just in some of the most beautiful places you can imagine, but they're also historical, and artistic, functional, and it just kind of rings everybody's bell. It's something that we've found a lot of people are enjoying to just go out into the country and look at.1
GARY: This is the oldest bridge in the county. the highway has been moved just a few feet south of here. But they left the bridge standing and that's one thing I think they ought to is just leave the bridges standing. They aren't' hurting anyone by just leaving them up. It has aged beautifully, down here in this little horseshoe creek. It had to have been done somewhere around 1900, maybe in the late 1800's.
A NUMBER OF THE STONE BRIDGES ARE STILL BEING USED, INCLUDING THIS TRIPLE ARCH BRIDGE OVER GRASS CREEK. IT'S THE LARGEST BRIDGE IN THE COUNTY, AND IS LISTED ON THE NATIONAL REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES.
GARY: You can sit here and all kinds of farm machinery and school busses go over it all day long. And a lot of people have gone over it and never know it was here. They just went over it and never looked over the side and saw that it was a stone arch bridge. It was built in 1913 and we call it the Iche Spur Bridge and the reason it's called the Iche Spur Bridge is that a spur of the railroad used to run up here to pick up cattle. And this was a major meeting point for anybody who was raising cattle in this area. In fact, we had an elderly gentleman who was on our bridge tour was actually on the last cattle drive down to this railhead here. This is the double arched bridge over silver creek. And it's been a gathering point for the locals for over 100 years. People used to drive their model "T"s and model "A"s down here because the river bed is just flat limestone. And they used it as a car wash even after the bridge is built. You'll notice that there are two arches. And they are totally different shapes and sizes, and we've had a number of people on the tours give us different explanations, Nobody really knows why. Probably has something to do with the way the water flows. It has a series of two little waterfalls here and then goes down into a swimming hole that's another popular attraction for generations. Just a wonderful place.
GARY: I think this bridge shows that these kind of places are naturally attractive to human beings throughout the centuries. There's an old sacred Indian stone not too far from here and all kinds of arrow heads around on either side. My son found a U.S. cavalry knife in the creek bed over there on that sand bar. And on the cliff behind us there are people's names carved on the stone over there. This has been a place of crossing and a place of beauty as long as anybody knows.
GARY HAS FOUND EIGHTEEN STONE BRIDGES IN COWLEY COUNTY. BUT AT ONE TIME, THERE WERE AT LEAST TWICE THAT MANY. MOST HAVE FALLEN VICTIM TO THE INCREASING SIZE AND WEIGHT OF THE VEHICLES THAT USE THEM.
GARY: They weren't built with school busses and John Deere tractors in mind. They were built in the horse and buggy days and which to me, that's the charm of them. All of these at ne time they were quite important to this area. They were landmarks and the people of this county recognized them as such. They are a deep part of our history.
THE STONE BRIDGES OF COWLEY COUNTY HAVE BEEN STANDING FOR CLOSE TO 100 YEARS. AND AS LONG AS THEY AREN'T INTENTIONALLY DEMOLISHED, CHANCES ARE THAT GARY AND SHANNON GACKSTATTER WILL STILL BE GIVING TOURS FOR YEARS TO COME.
GARY: These bridges will probably outlast the bridges that are being built this year. They need to be preserved so that we can look at these bridges and say, "yeah, this is how they used to do things." Not only is it functional but it's beautiful. It serves its purpose, but its also a work of art, its also - you can look at these as sculptures.
This transcript is from KTWU's Sunflower Journey's 2001 season.
A production of: