Historic Lewes railroad swing bridge finds a home

Will be displayed along bike trail at end of American Legion Road

by Nick Roth, reprinted with author’s permission

After an extensive search, the Lewes Junction Railroad and Bridge Association has found a home for the historic swing bridge in the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal.

Lewes Mayor and City Council has agreed to place the bridge on a long, narrow strip of land zoned open space that’s only a few thousand feet from where it stands. The new location is at the end of American Legion Road, between Freeman Highway and the bike path.

Randy Voith, a retired engineer and spokesman for the association, says his group intends for the bridge to remain on the city land permanently, serving as a monument similar to the Lightship Overfalls in Canalfront Park. “From our standpoint, this is the perfect location for the bridge,” Voith said.

Council’s action April 13 provided the Department of Transportation the certainty it needed to move forward with plans to remove the bridge. Had the association not found a location, temporary or permanent, DelDOT was planning to scrap the bridge. Just where within the 5.25-acre parcel the 91-foot bridge will be placed is yet to be worked out between the association and city staff.

Councilwoman Bonnie Osler said she did not like the proposed placement, at a T where the bike path from American Legion Road meets another section of the trail that extends out to the canal to the west and to Cape Henlopen State Park to the east.

“It basically cuts off any alternative use of this land,” she said. “It’s across from basically the only access point.”

Voith said the location was chosen because it has the highest elevation of the parcel, but the group is open to finding other areas within the parcel to place the bridge. The bridge will be surrounded by a fence and landscaping, Voith said. The site will be easily accessible by foot or bicycle – 12 head-in parking spaces are available nearby on American Legion Road.

The bridge was built in 1916, and over the years it has served the menhaden fish factory, Cape Henlopen State Park, Fort Miles and, more recently, SPI Pharma.

The railroad from Cool Spring to Lewes was decommissioned in 2017 after it was discovered the bridge had dropped 7 to 8 inches as the structure sank into the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal below.

Significant erosion has taken place in the canal bank around the bridge structure, which Del-DOT believes will be remedied by removing the bridge.

Once it is removed, DelDOT Director of Community Relations C.R. McLeod said, the shoreline will be replaced with rip-rap.

Saving the bridge is only one goal of the Lewes Junction Railroad and Bridge Association. The group also has plans to procure several railroad cars, including an engine, passenger car and caboose, and relocate them to a 210-foot section of track between the Lewes Public Library and the Lewes History Museum. The group’s interest prompted DelDOT to leave a small section of track in place when removing the railroad in 2018.

The railroad cars would be part of a larger outdoor museum aimed at honoring Lewes’ nearly 150-year railroad history, ending Dec. 15, 2017, when the last train left town.