Each week in May, to celebrate National Historic Preservation Month, we will highlight one of the 2022 Community Initiative Award winners. In this week’s post, I asked Janice Lynx, Executive Director of the West Short Historical Society, about their successful efforts to save Sheepford Road Bridge.
Sheepford Road Bridge is one of the first bridges to receive funds from PennDOT’s Historic Metal Truss Capital Rehabilitation Program, a new program created to promote the rehabilitation of historic metal truss bridges. I’ll take this opportunity to let our readers know that we also publish a biannual newsletter in partnership with PennDOT dedicated to the preservation and reuse of metal truss bridges. You can sign up here!
Can you tell me a little bit about your organization, how and why it was formed, and the relationship between Friends of Sheepford Road Bridge and the West Shore Historical Society?
The Friends of Sheepford Road Bridge was formed in the fall of 2019 by Lower Allen and Fairview Township residents after learning that the bridge would likely fail an upcoming inspection and would be closed to traffic and possibly lost . We began our Save Our Bridge Campaign in November 2020 with the release of our video “The Bridge at Sheepford Road,” the launching of our website, and distribution of “Save Our Bridge” lawn signs.
The Friends reached out to the West Shore Historical Society (WSHS) in January 2020 for assistance and in March 2020 WSHS began to act as an umbrella organization, allowing us to accept donations while we investigated starting our own non-profit. In time, Janice Lynx, one of the founding members of Friends of Sheepford Road Bridge was asked to join the Board of WSHS and within a few months accepted the position of Executive Director, thereby merging the two organizations. The Friends of Sheepford Road Bridge now functions as a Committee of WSHS.
What makes Sheepford Road Bridge special and inspired you and your many friends and supporters to fight so hard against its demolition?
Upon initially hearing about the potential loss of the Sheepford Road Bridge, the community’s initial concern was the loss of an important connective road between York & Cumberland Counties on which we relied daily. It wasn’t until we began to do research that we discovered just how important our bridge was historically and we began to see what an incredible loss it would be to lose this gem. For our community, it has always served as a destination bridge, as it abuts Yellow Breeches Park in Lower Allen – a popular place for fishing, boating, and a short hike along the creek.
Here’s what we learned about our bridge:
The Sheepford Road Bridge is a single span 114’ long, pin-connected, Pratt thru truss bridge, built in 1887 by the Phoenix Bridge Company and erected by Dean & Westbrook. The bridge crosses the Yellow Breeches Creek, on Sheepford Road in Mechanicsburg and connects Fairview/Lower Allen Townships and Cumberland/York Counties.
It is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places under Criteria C for Engineering. The 2017 PennDOT Preservation Assessment notes the bridge is an exceptional preservation priority. This is a ranking that was given to metal truss bridges in order to determine those bridges that are the earliest and rarest examples, express engineering innovations, and retain integrity. An exceptional preservation priority is the highest.
The campaign to save Sheepford Road Bridge weathered the challenges of time, COVID, two counties and a state agency. What was your strategy and how did it adapt over time? Did you ever think maybe you weren’t going to succeed?
Though our project was ultimately successful, we had to compromise many times to save our bridge. Our first goal was to have the bridge repaired and re-opened for traffic. Then we sought to have it rehabilitated as a pedestrian bridge with access for emergency vehicles. Eventually we agreed that in the interest of long-term preservation of the bridge, a pedestrian/bicycle bridge was the best solution.
However, through these compromises our strategy remained the same. We contacted every possible individual and organization that we could think of for advice and support. We eventually built a coalition that was too large to ignore. There were many times we thought all was lost, but we refused to give up. We were always polite, made sure we educated ourselves, and kept coming back every time we were shrugged off or heard the word “no.” We would just regroup and plan our next event/activity and continued to attract people to our cause, partly because of our passion and commitment and partly because the bridge told its own story.
A significant grant award was provided to the Friends. Congratulations! Are there plans to seek additional funds for future projects involving the bridge? Are there plans to connect the bridge with area hiking trails?
York County was awarded a 1.4-million-dollar grant to rehabilitate the Sheepford Road Bridge as a pedestrian bridge. WSHS has had discussions with Fairview and Lower Allen Townships and is doing research on how to best provide pedestrian/bicycle connectivity to residents of both townships.
As a condition for York County applying for the PennDOT Transportation Alternative Set Aside (TASA) grant, the West Shore Historical Society agreed to become the new owner of the bridge upon completion of the rehabilitation. As the new owners, WSHS is responsible for insuring and maintaining the bridge and is seeking donations for our Bridge Fund. You can donate by visiting www.westshorehistoricalsociety.org/donate/ or mail a check to West Shore Historical Society, PO BOX 717, Camp Hill PA 17001. We will be announcing future events and hope many of you will support our efforts.
What advice can you give to others who are fighting to save a threatened historic place?
If you are interested/involved in saving a historic place, our advice would be first to educate yourself on the historical significance of a property, reach out to other established organizations for assistance, and let your local representatives know what you are doing. Always be polite and gracious. And most importantly don’t stop when you hear your first “no.” Everyone one told us we were too late, that we weren’t going to “win” but we refused to listen. Our bridge wouldn’t let us!
Are there other organizations, people, or companies you’d like to acknowledge for their contributions to this project and its success?
The Friends of Sheepford Road Bridge/West Shore Historical Society owes thanks to many who helped us in our epic journey to save our bridge, including Cumberland County Historical Society, Preservation Pennsylvania, Historic Harrisburg Association, Rep. Sheryl Delozier, Rep. Dawn Keefer, Senator Mike Regan, Congressman Scott Perry, Cumberland Area Economic Development Corp., Lower Allen/Fairview Townships, Cumberland County Director of Planning Kirk Stoner, York County Senior Transportation Planner Heather Bitner and of course Cumberland and York County Commissioners. And all the many Friends of Sheepford Road Bridge who joined together to Save Our Bridge.
The Sheepford Road Bridge continues to give us reasons to celebrate!