Have you ever counted the number of bridges you cross as you travel from one community to another? In today’s society, I know that I take those bridges for granted and am guessing that you may do likewise.
However, when one is on the south side of a river (stream or creek) and need to get to the other side, those bridges become important. That was very true for my husband and I when he interviewed for a teaching job at Nemaha Valley High School. We were students at Kansas State Teachers College in Emporia, Kansas and the interview was in Seneca, Kansas. Between Emporia and Seneca is one of the major rivers in Kansas – the Kansas River.
We had looked at the maps and figured out a route to get from Emporia to Seneca. Since he was a ‘poor’ college student, he wasn’t interested in taking the turnpike from Emporia to Topeka and then going to Seneca. Ruling out that route, he elected to take the most direct route going thru Maple Hill to Saint Marys and then north to Seneca.
Reaching Maple Hill, we discovered that the bridge across the Kansas River was closed for construction. Thus, a search of the map began for another bridge to get us from the South side of the river to the North side. We ended up going thru Paxico. Fortunately, we were able to locate a pay phone and call ahead to warn the superintendent that we would be late due to our issue with the bridge.
My Crawford relatives were greatly impacted by this need for a bridge when they migrated to Dodge City. The majority of their land holdings were on the South side of the Arkansas River while the Santa Fe trail, railroad and business district were all on the North side of the river.
By the time James H. Crawford and his family arrived in Dodge City, the Dodge City Bridge Company had erected a toll bridge across the river. Tolls to cross the bridge were $1.50 for a team and wagon, $2.00 for a four to six horse team and $.25 for men on horseback (or pedestrians). [Toll information from the article, “John T. Riney: the First Toll Keeper” by Kathie Bell for the Dodge City Daily Globe. A clipping of the article was shared in the Facebook group, Growing Up in Dodge City.]
Being entrepreneurs, the Crawford family established a Branding Corral one mile south of the river. They also purchased and refurbished the South Side Hotel. Both of these businesses would have attracted cattlemen and other travelers coming to Dodge City from Texas.
The undersigned has a large and convenient corral for the branding of through Texas cattle, one mile south of the Arkansas river bridge. Apply at the residence south end of river bridge, or at my place of business inthe city.
J.H. CrawfordDodge City Times, July 24, 1884
The South Side Hotel
Has been repaired, refitted and refurnished, and is now opened to the traveling public. Everything home-like and pleasant.
A good Feed Stable and large Horse Pasture in connection.
Prices reasonable. No drinks sold on the premises.
J.H. CrawfordDodge City Times, July 2, 1885
Crossing the river was an almost daily task for J. H. Crawford and his family since he ran Crawford Grocers in Dodge City.
The need to connect those settlers on the south side of the river with the commerce district on the north side was behind the ‘Free Bridge’ movement.
There is nothing that would assist business in Dodge City and the improvement of Ford county so materially as a free bridge across the Arkansas river. Complaint reaches us every day in the week from the numerous settlers who are locating on the south side of the river. It looks to them like an outrage to be compelled to pay a dollar for bridge toll whenever they wish to visit the city or haul a load to the settlements. The business men of Dodge City should make some effort in this direction, as it is creating a prejudice in the minds of the settlers against the town. A dollar is a small sum in the eyes of many western people, but tot hose who are just from the east where dollars are not picked up so easily it is different, and they will go a good ways around rather than pay a dollar. If Spearville or Cimarron should build a bridge we would lose a very large trade. It should be the duty of the county officers, whose salaries have been increased to a very handsome pile, to spend a little time looking up this matter, knowing it to be for the benefit of their constituents, and notify the people through the Globe just what steps are necessary to be take in order to build a bridge or purchase the old one.The Dodge City Globe (Dodge City, Kansas) 25 March 1879, page 3.
In April of 1885, an agreement between the township board and the Dodge City Bridge Company was reached for the purchase of the existing bridge.
At a meeting of the Township Board the bridge bond question was the all absorbing topic before that body. As was reported in our last issue, the bridge bonds were issued on the 18th inst., and all that now remained was to get the bridge company to accept of the same as per agreement, which we regret to say the bridge company, through its president, R. M. Wright, refused todo, unless certain further concessions were made on the part of the board, to-wit: That on account of certain expenditures on the the part of the bridge company, incurred in investigating the validity of the bonds and in subduing the opposition of the Santa Fe railroad company on the issuance of the same, he proposed to accept the $6,00 in bond for the bridge and would give possession to the same on or before July 1st, 1885, the township to have the interest on said bonds from time of issuance to time of turning property over tot he township, the bridge company entering into a bond of $10,000 with G. M. Hoover as surety, for the faithful performance of the contract so entered into with the township board. The board after consulting with a large number of tax-paying citizens, and finding a majority of the opinion that the proposition should be accepted as the best that could be done, accordingly delivered the bonds to the bridge company. So the question is settled. Before the great Fourth of July, with its spirit of Freedom, rolls around, the bridge will be free and those passing over independent of toll. The bridge is insured, and the policy will be assigned to the township.The Dodge City Globe (Dodge City, Kansas) 28 April 1885, page 4
Thus, the toll bridge was no more and the South Dodge was connected to the main business district by a free bridge.