Tales and Trails of Wakarusa,  by A. M. Harvey

The Stone Bridge

     THE Indian trail had given away and had gradually become merged into a public road, here and there forced back to section lines, but in the main sustaining its diagonal course across the country and being known as the Topeka and Ottawa State Road.

     Jacob Welchans was not only an extraordinarily fine surveyor, whose corner-stones and monuments are now and always will be recognized in Shawnee County as the best evidence of the location of land boundaries, but he also engaged in country school-teaching, and a number of times taught in the little school-house established near the Wakarusa River and by the old Sac and Fox spring. The ford across the Wakarusa at this point was not an extra good one. The bottom was rock, but there was a steep hill on one side and a low, springy place on the other; and, excepting times when the stream was very low, the water was of considerable depth over the fording place, and it was not an uncommon sight to see a farmer's boy on an old gray mare fording children across in the morning and in the afternoon, so that they could go to and from school.

     This was long before city men commenced buying up farm land, and therefore the Wakarusa Valley was quite well populated, and the little school boasted an attendance of from fifty to sixty children during the entire school year. Jacob Welchans became ambitious that there should be a bridge across the Wakarusa at that point, not only for the benefit of the school children and the neighborhood generally, but because that was the fording place for the travel that fell into the Topeka and Ottawa State Road. He called attention of the county officers to the importance of the road to the city of Topeka and to the county of Shawnee, and by sheer force of character he impressed upon them the conviction that a bridge should be erected at the place indicated, and that it should be a stone bridge builded from bed rock, and to stay.

     The usual formalities were indulged in, and the contract was let to George Evans, who commenced the work in the summer of 1878, and when the school commenced in October the bridge was in course of construction. It was a great time for the neighborhood and for the school children, who spent much of their intermission periods around the work and the workmen. Some of the workmen were negroes who talked French, and they were a lot of fun. They camped at different places around near the spring, boiled their coffee in old tomato cans, slept on the ground, hunted squirrels and rabbits between working hours, and in many other ways exhibited interesting activities, to the delight of the youngsters. After one arch of the bridge was up and the false work had been taken out, it commenced to crack and fold and double, and then fell. The school children had just arrived on the scene after being dismissed at recess, and it seemed for all the world as though the arch had fallen down to give them the benefit of the crash and the excitement. No one was hurt, and the wreck was soon cleared away, so that the work could go on.

     The bridge was finished in due time, and for nearly forty years it has justified the faith of those who planned and constructed it. Once after an extraordinary flood that filled the waterways almost to the top, Jim Baker said: "She is a mighty good makeshift in time of high water; no tin bridge for me." It not only served the purpose of travel, but it has become a landmark in southern Shawnee County, and it always will be a monument to the old trail and to the wisdom and foresight of Jacob Welchans and the other county officers who were responsible for its being constructed.

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