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DCLR - Lewes Creek Swing Bridge


Lewes Railroad Swing Bridge

Photo looks northwest from adjacent Freeman Memorial Highway (Rd. 23) bridge

Photo taken by Marty Bernard March 13, 2013

View this photo at railfan44.rrpicturearchives.net

BH Photo #251902



Two men swing the railroad bridge over the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal to the open position to allow passage for boats after a train has crossed.

John Winder

Lewes Drawbridge

Gun barrel from USS Missouri being delivered to Cape Henlopen State Park in April 2012. Video shows the manual cranking process used by railroad employees to "wind" the bridge closed using a lever and capstan.

Cape Gazette (www.capegazette.com)

Play video on YouTube

Lewes Railroad Swing Bridge

Video from track approach shows cranking operation in greater detail, including a second mechanism to lock the bridge into place

Nick Roth

Play video on YouTube


Bridge closed to traffic Sept. 2016 account inspection revealed the main pier settled several inches since Feb. 2016 inspection. Previous repair plans scuttled and bridge will be removed in the future.

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."


Deck plate girder swing bridge over Intracoastal Waterway on Delaware Coast Line RR
Lewes, Sussex County, Delaware
Intact but closed to all traffic; to be removed
Future prospects
Proposal made to remove bridge to land location for display: https://www.capegazette.com/article/lewes-railroad-swing-bri...

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...

Built 1916; Closed 2016; Abandoned 2017
- American Bridge Co. of New York
- Delaware Coast Line Railroad (DCLR)
- Delaware, Maryland & Virginia Railroad (DM&V)
- Maryland & Delaware Railroad (MDDE)
- Penn Central Railroad (PC)
- Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR)
Bobtail deck plate girder swing span
Also called
MDDE - Bridge 38.71
Lewes Railroad Swing Bridge
DM&V - Lewes Creek Swing Bridge
DM&V - Lewes Swing Bridge
DCLR - Bridge 38.71
PRR - Lewes Swing Bridge
DM&V - Bridge 38.71
PRR - Bridge 38.71
PRR - Lewes Creek Swing Bridge
DCLR - Lewes Swing Bridge
MDDE - Lewes Creek Swing Bridge
MDDE - Lewes Swing Bridge
Approximate latitude, longitude
+38.77359, -75.13388   (decimal degrees)
38°46'25" N, 75°08'02" W   (degrees°minutes'seconds")
Approximate UTM coordinates
18/488370/4291660 (zone/easting/northing)
Quadrangle map:
Inventory number
BH 55943 (Bridgehunter.com ID)

Update Log 

  • January 13, 2020: Updated by Alexander D. Mitchell IV: Plans being advanced to save and display swing span at on-land location
  • April 4, 2019: New photos from Alexander D. Mitchell IV
  • October 24, 2018: New photos from Timothy and Joann Phillips
  • August 19, 2018: New Street View added by Dana and Kay Klein
  • August 2, 2018: Photo imported by Alexander D. Mitchell IV
  • August 26, 2017: Updated by Alexander D. Mitchell IV: Bridge will be removed in future instead of temporarily repaired to retrieve stranded rail cars
  • July 11, 2017: Updated by Alexander D. Mitchell IV: Rail line has filed to abandion bridge, but will close draw span one last time to retrieve three tank cars before abandonment
  • October 14, 2016: Updated by Alexander D. Mitchell IV: Bridge closed to rail traffic late Sept. 2016
  • September 1, 2016: Updated by Alexander D. Mitchell IV: Videos added
  • August 18, 2016: New Street View added by Dana and Kay Klein
  • August 18, 2016: New video from Alexander D. Mitchell IV
  • December 26, 2015: Updated by Alexander D. Mitchell IV: Added construction date and details
  • March 31, 2013: Added by Alexander D. Mitchell IV



DCLR - Lewes Creek Swing Bridge
Posted November 22, 2019, by Robert Wilhelm (steamcarriage [at] netscape [dot] net)

According to reports this week, this bridge is not to be saved. Fund raising has not come through. It is available for relocation. If its not picked up by someone, it will be cut up to clear the waterway.

DCLR - Lewes Creek Swing Bridge
Posted May 19, 2018, by George oakley (georgeoakley49 [at] yahoo [dot] com)

Castle with a moat and a swing bridge?That's an original if I ever heard one,Julie.Anyway,Removing this bridge to where it can be used would be great.By the way,stock the moat with alligators.That'll keep people away!

DCLR - Lewes Creek Swing Bridge
Posted May 18, 2018, by Julie Bowers (jbowerz1 [at] gmail [dot] com)

I said it was offered. I dont think we have a customer but we will let folks know. Castle with a moat and a swing train bridge entry.

DCLR - Lewes Creek Swing Bridge
Posted May 18, 2018, by George oakley (georgeoakley49 [at] yahoo [dot] com)

Sounds great,Julie.Do you have a plan on how to remove the bridge?That looks like a tricky job for anybody removing a bridge.

DCLR - Lewes Creek Swing Bridge
Posted May 18, 2018, by Julie Bowers (jbowerz1 [at] gmail [dot] com)

They offered it to us. Sounds pretty neat for that person who wants a bridge.

DCLR - Lewes Creek Swing Bridge
Posted May 18, 2018, by George oakley (georgeoakley49 [at] yahoo [dot] com)

Just read on another site that the railroad crossing signals were removed on this line meaning the rail line is decommissioned.The railbed or parts of it will be turned into a trail.As for this bridge the article did say that because of cost this bridge will not be repaired.The article didn't mention nothing about any sale of the bridge to anybody or re-use anywhere else.Doesn't look good.

DCLR - Lewes Creek Swing Bridge
Posted May 11, 2018, by Julie Bowers (jbowerz1 [at] gmail [dot] com)

This bridge is available from DelDOT for reuse.

DCLR - Lewes Creek Swing Bridge
Posted June 22, 2017, by Dana and Kay Klein

Hand Operated

Lewes Railroad Swing Bridge
Posted April 3, 2013, by Alexander D. Mitchell IV

The railroad is effectively a "dead-end" branch-line railroad ending at an industry about a mile east of the bridge, with only one crew, one locomotive, etc. The trains operates at fairly low speed. The crew members on the train are often (usually? I've seen a guy in a truck drive out to close the bridge in advance once...) the ones cranking the bridge open and close. It's akin to the gate or garage door at the end of a driveway being open or close before you drive out onto the road--you don't need a signal to tell you your gate or garage door is open or not, do you?

Lewes Railroad Swing Bridge
Posted April 2, 2013, by Anonymous

Wow, very unique bridge. But how does the railroad know when the bridge is open? Does the open bridge turn the railroad signal to "red" status?