Lewes Railroad Swing Bridge, an Engineering Marvel

The Lewes railroad swing bridge, designated Railroad Bridge 38.71, carried the Delaware Coast Line Railroad over the Rehoboth Lewes Canal. The bridge was constructed in 1916 as part of the canal construction by the Army Corps of Engineers and replaced a wooden trestle bridge that crossed the Lewes Creek.

The bridge is manually operated and is a Bobtail/Asymmetrical design with two riveted plate girders supporting the bridge deck. It has been reported that only two swing bridges of this type were constructed in the United States.

The 91’-3” long, 143 ton bridge (including counterweights) is quite elegant from an engineering standpoint. The bridge is balanced on a 12” diameter bearing disc on which the bridge rotates. The bearing disc rests on a 6’-1½” high steel pedestal made up of eight 1¾” thick ribs bracing a 2” thick steel framework. The bridge itself is hung from six 15” deep steel “I” beams that straddle the pedestal and support six 4½” diameter hanger bolts which connect to the bridge girders. The “I” beams set loose on the pedestal and are not connected to it by any bolts or clamps. Please refer to the attached bridge drawings. Counterweights, totaling 66 tons, are added to balance the bridge on the pedestal. This design allowed two people to rotate the 143 ton bridge by merely “walking” a steel bar in circles. The bar is connected to a gear that rotates the bridge.

The only changes made to the 100+ year old bridge was the addition of navigational markers used for boating safety.

In 2012, a train carrying a 116 ton, 16” gun barrel from the WWII battleship USS Missouri crossed the bridge on its way to the Fort Miles Museum at Henlopen State Park.

The bridge was decommissioned in 2016. No longer needed, the bridge will be removed from the canal to allow restoration of the original shorelines. The Lewes Junction Railroad & Bridge Association has worked with the City of Lewes, the Lewes City Council and DELDot to find a home for this iconic bridge. It will be displayed next to the bike path (the old railroad bed) opposite American Legion Road.

Here are some YouTube videos of the bridge in action: