The soon-to-be new and permanent home of Lewes’ railroad swing bridge was recently cleared by Boy Scout Troop 186 of Milford led by Eagle Scout candidate Nicholas Schimmel.
Later this year, the Delaware Department of Transportation will remove the bridge from the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal, where it has sat for more than 100 years. It will be transported a short distance toward the beach along the rail-to-trail and placed at the intersection where the trail splits from American Legion Road toward the canal to the west and Cape Henlopen State Park to the east.
Schimmel discovered the opportunity to clear the area of brush, shrubs and debris thanks to the help of his grandfather Gary Wray, who has been heavily involved with the Fort Miles Historical Association and, more recently, the Lewes Junction Railroad and Bridge Association, which set goals to save the swing bridge from demolition and to build a historical exhibit with three decommissioned train cars next to the Lewes Public Library.
“[My grandfather] informed me about the bridge and what needed to be done,” Schimmel said. “Shortly after that, we visited the site and got the initial impressions on what would have to be done. After this, I began the paperwork required to pass the Eagle project, and spread the word to my troop to gain workers for the project. I believe the city will be able to take advantage of a new exhibit along their bike trail, which could potentially bring tourists and locals alike down to the beaches.”
Schimmel recruited more than a dozen fellow scouts and adults to help with the project. The crew spent about four hours at the site June 19. They left larger trees standing on the property to avoid removing unnecessary natural habitat. The city will determine which trees need to be removed to accommodate the bridge.
The swing 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 bottom below. Significant erosion has taken place in the canal bank around the bridge structure, which DelDOT believes will be remedied by removing the bridge.
A large section of the former railroad has been converted into the Lewes-to-Georgetown Trail. Currently, bicyclists and pedestrians can travel continuously on the path from the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal to Route 9 at Coolspring. Later this year, work is set to begin on the Georgetown end of the trail, starting at Georgetown Little League and heading east.
For more information about the Lewes Junction Railroad and Bridge Association, go to lewesjunctionrr.org.