Cape Gazette (www.capegazette.com)
Lewes Railroad Swing Bridge
Hand-cranked swing bridge, opened and closed by means of a beam "wound" like a large winch. Bridge sees rail service perhaps once a week at best, to serve one industry near Cape Henlopen State Park with compressed-gas tank cars. Bridge normally left in open position and closed in advance of railroad traffic.
From Delaware Department of Transportation, with updated correction:
"The Delaware, Maryland & Virginia Railroad Bridge Number 38.71 carries the Georgetown-Lewes railroad line over the Lewes and Rehoboth Canal, 1/4-mile south of State Route 9 (Business) in Lewes. The bridge is a center-bearing, bobtail, swing span with an over all length of 92' and a deck width of about 17'. Constructed in 1916, the bridge is historically significant as a surviving example of a swing span railroad bridge.
The swing span bridge has a deck girder superstructure composed of two tapered. built-up girders. The design is called a bobtail swing span because of the unequal lengths of its two arms; the longer of the two arms measures about 60'-long, and the shorter about 30'-long. The end of the shorter arm is framed with a concrete counterweight for balance. Bobtail swing spans commonly were used for narrow waterways where the off-center pivot pier caused less of a channel obstruction. The abutments and pivot pier are concrete.
The bridge is operated manually by a capstan inserted in a drive shaft located in the deck. The capstan and drive shaft turn beveled open reduction gears that engage the pinion gear mounted on the pivot pier. The bridge rotates on its center bearing with eight balance wheels traveling on a track. A shaft operates a worm gear that moves two end wedges at the abutment end of the swing span’s longer arm. In the closed position, the wedges lift the arm to afford a rigid support on the abutment and neutralize the end deflection of the arms. As with all movable railroad bridges, an important consideration is aligning the rails on the bridge with those of the approaching railroad tracks. To accomplish a secure fit, the rails on the ends of the bridge are bowed upwards by rail lift rods. After the bridge is closed, the operator engages a lever that lowers the rods, thus lowering the rails into a slotted fitting with the approach tracks.
The Georgetown-Lewes rail line was established in 1869 as part of the Junction and Breakwater Railroad (J&B), a short line running from the Delaware Railroad at Harrington to the breakwater at Lewes. In 1883, the J&B was renamed the Delaware, Maryland & Virginia Railroad (DM&V) as part of the consolidation of several smaller Delmarva lines under the control of the Pennsylvania Railroad. The DM&V spurred the development of fish oil processing near Cape Henlopen. These factories, located on the eastern side of the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal, were serviced by the DM&V, which made use of the swing span bridge to deliver their products.
The line currently is owned by DelDOT and operated by the [Delaware Coast Line] Railroad.
The 1916 swing span bridge was erected as part of the construction of the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal, begun in 1912. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built the 12-mile long canal as part of the inland waterway. In the vicinity of Lewes, the canal followed the natural course of Lewes Creek, which was channelized to meet the canal specifications. In 1915, when the canal reached the existing railroad bridge over Lewes Creek, the DM&V submitted a proposal to the Corps to construct the swing span bridge. It was fabricated by the American Bridge Company at its Pencoyd, Pennsylvania shops."
With a deadline quickly approaching, the Lewes Junction Railroad and Bridge Association is scrambling to find a new home for the historic railroad swing bridge in the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal.
The latest idea is to move the bridge to Great Marsh Park off New Road, home to the Lewes Unleashed Dog Park and the Lewes Community Garden.
The idea went before the city's parks and recreation commission Dec. 16, when the group supported preservation of the bridge. Parks and Rec Chair Alison Kirk said the commission passed a motion to study the concept and feasibility of putting the bridge in Great Marsh Park. “This is not a absolute final approval to put it in Great Marsh Park, but that parks & recreation will study and look at the bridge and if it will fit into the master plan of the park,” she said.
Parks and rec is in the midst of working on a master plan, she said.
Previously presented ideas involving city and state property have been scrapped due to concerns over maintenance and liability.
Department of Transportation officials said they ideally want to know the bridge has a willing recipient by the end of the year so the state can move forward with plans to remove the structure next fall.
If no site can be found, DelDOT Chief of Bridges and Structures Jason Hastings said, the likely result will be preservation through photographs, and the bridge will be removed and scrapped.
Gary Wray of the Lewes Junction Railroad and Bridge Association said he's happy with how the commission reacted to the Great Marsh Park idea.
“This bridge has served us for over 100 years,” he said. “It now needs our help. I was there to ask for that help. I think that really resonated with them.”
The bridge was built in 1916. The bridge 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 it had dropped 7 to 8 inches due to settlement of the structure in the canal below. Significant erosion has taken place in the canal bank around the bridge structure, which DelDOT believes will be remedied with the removal of the bridge.
Once the bridge 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. Due to interest from the group, DelDOT left the 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.
Bridge closed to rail traffic in late September 2016 account settled pier: http://www.capegazette.com/article/swing-bridge-over-canal-c...
Railroad has filed for abandonment of section of line that includes this bridge, and state DOT plans to remove this bridge: http://www.capegazette.com/article/era-train-travel-over-lew...