James Barney Marsh
Photographer Robert James Waller made the covered bridges of Madison County, Iowa, famous with his best-selling book and Golden Globe-nominated film, The Bridges of Madison County. Nearly 80 years earlier, a fellow Iowan made bridge history of his own in Kansas.
James Barney Marsh was born in Wisconsin and graduated from Iowa State College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts in 1882. He began his professional career in the Des Moines office of the King Bridge Company of Cleveland, Ohio, working in design, sales, and the construction of metal bridges. Marsh later worked for the Kansas City Bridge and Iron Company and again the King Bridge Company in Des Moines. In the spring of 1896 Marsh formed his own company, the Marsh Bridge Company (later called the Marsh Engineering Company).
As a contracting engineer, Marsh was able to develop his own bridge designs, usually using steel as a medium. In the early 1900s he started adding concrete to his designs. In 1911 Marsh patented a design for a “rainbow arch” bridge that used reinforced concrete spans for major stream crossings. The design was unique because the arches could contract along with the bridge floor under varying conditions of moisture and temperature. This concept competed with the popular steel truss design at the time, and Marsh set out across the Midwest to solicit his rainbow arch bridge. The Marsh Bridge Company designed 76 bridges in Kansas between 1917 and 1940.
Of the Marsh bridges in Kansas, 11 are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. They can be found in Chautauqua, Cherokee, Coffey, Geary, Linn, Lyon, Miami, Montgomery, Sedgwick, and Shawnee counties. Of the eight triple-span rainbow arch bridges in Kansas, two are located in Miami County, which has the most National Register-listed Marsh bridges of any Kansas county. Both bridges are located in Osawatomie and are still open to traffic. Because Osawatomie is bound by the Marais des Cygnes River on the north and Pottawatomie Creek on the south, these bridges are vital to access the community from the outlying areas.
North of town, the Creamery Bridge was built in 1931 to span the Marais des Cygnes at Eighth Street. The bridge was named for the dairy business located north of the river. It is 345 feet long and has a rainbow span reaching 140 feet into the air at its highest point. According to the December 12, 1930, issue of the Osawatomie Graphic, the Maxwell Construction Company had been selected for the project with a bid of $36,087.84. The bridge would replace one that had been condemned several times. The May 21, 1931, issue of the Graphic mentioned that county engineer Harold J. Abbey predicted seven more working days were needed to complete the structure.
South of Osawatomie is the Pottawatomie Creek Bridge, located on Sixth Street. Built in 1932, the bridge reaches 120 feet into the air. It was built by J.S. Vance and Son Construction Company of Parsons in 218 days at a cost of $66,751.56. The July 31, 1931, Miami Republican predicted that the mile of roadwork including the bridge would cost over $114,000. “This is the most costly and will be the most pretentious bridge in the county,” the paper claimed.
Upon completion of the Pottawatomie Creek Bridge in June 1932, the Graphic described the community of Osawatomie’s event to celebrate the bridge opening. Kansas Adjutant General Milton R. McLean was in attendance to represent Governor Harry Woodring. McClean cut the ribbon, officially opening it to traffic. The American Legion Juvenile band played, and Hardie Dillinger made a successful balloon ascension and parachute jump, landing just north of the Marais des Cygnes.
Entry: Marsh, James Barney
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: May 2011
Date Modified: May 2011
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