The historic railroad swing bridge is set to be removed from the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal by the end of the year.
The Lewes Junction Railroad and Bridge Association has arranged for it to be moved a few thousand feet to city-owned land at the end of American Legion Road, between Freeman Highway and the bike path.
Had the association not found a location, temporary or permanent, the Delaware Department of Transportation was planning to scrap the 105-year-old bridge.
“We are working with DelDOT designing the wayside historical signs, benches and other parts of the bridge’s static display,” said association member Gary Wray.
Once the bridge is placed, Wray said his group will get to work on the rest of the display. They’re targeting early 2022 for completion.
In addition to the bridge deck, DelDOT has agreed to allow the group to display the connector pieces that allow the bridge to pivot. Wray said that will be important in educating the public about how the bridge functioned.
In April, mayor and city council agreed to permit placement of the 91-foot bridge in a 5.25-acre area. Safety and security were concerns at that time, and the group has agreed to surround the bridge with fencing and landscaping.
The bridge was built in 1916, and over the years has carried trains servicing 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 seven to eight inches as the structure sank into the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal bottom. Significant erosion has taken place in the canal bank around the bridge structure, which DelDOT 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.
Lewes Junction display
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 a steamless 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.
In November, DelDOT signed a use agreement allowing the group to move forward with its plans. The next step is a memorandum of understanding with the city, said Randy Voith, spokesman for the association.
The project is a collaboration among the association, Lewes library, Art in Bloom and Lewes in Bloom. In addition to train cars, Schell Brothers has agreed to build a replica train station that surrounds the library’s generator. The station would be embellished with imaginative works of art.
Voith said a fence would surround the train cars, but public access onto the restored cars would be permitted on occasion.
The group plans to continue ironing out details before presenting an update to mayor and city council in the future.