Janice Lynx is a retired elementary school music teacher and musician, with a new-found love for preservation, particularly as it relates to the Sheepford Road Bridge and other bridges along the Yellow Breeches Creek. She is a founding member of Friends of Sheepford Road Bridge (seen above in a pre-pandemic love fest) and is often referred to as “the instigator,” a term that she is proud of.
Enjoy her virtual valentine
The Sheepford Road Bridge crosses the Yellow Breeches Creek, separating Lower Allen & Fairview Townships & Cumberland & York Counties. It was fabricated by the Phoenix Bridge Company, located in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, and erected by Dean & Westbrook in 1887. (Click to view the 1888 “Album of Designs” of the Phoenix Bridge Company.)
Here’s a little history!
The Phoenix Bridge Company was one of the nation’s most important developers of metal truss bridge technology in the last half of the 19th century. This bridge is a rare example of a thru metal truss bridge with Phoenix columns. The Phoenix column, patented in 1861, was one of the first successful attempts to substitute built-up wrought iron sections for cast iron, an important advance in metal truss design.
Historicbridges.org rates the bridge as a 9 out of 10 in national and local historic and technological significance. It is believed to be the 11th or 12th most historic bridge in the state, according to a representative from PennDot. The bridge has been certified as eligible for the National Register of Historic Places by the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office.
One of the most interesting things we found out about our bridge is its connection to the Eiffel Tower. Gustav Eiffel visited the Philadelphia Centennial in 1876 and saw plans for the Centennial Tower, which was never built. The plans for the proposed tower used Phoenix columns. Years later, Eiffel gave credit to Phoenix Bridge Company engineer Samuel Reeves for concepts for the Eiffel Tower (built in 1889). We have seen this documented in various places, including the website for the Phoenixville Foundry, which is now an event space. In short, Phoenix column bridges were the inspiration for the Eiffel Tower. Phoenix columns were also used in the elevated subway systems in New York City, Independence Hall in Philadelphia, and the Washington Monument.
As owners of the property that abuts the Sheepford Road Bridge, we are very lucky to have it be part of our everyday environment. We were shocked in July 2019 when we first heard that the bridge was the subject of a York/Cumberland County Closure and Removal Study and I have worked since then to “Save Our Bridge,” forming the Friends of Sheepford Road Bridge.
I had never been involved with preservation work of any kind at all and didn’t even know where to start. I sent out a blind mailing to the 50 immediate neighbors of the bridge and was relieved to find out that so many others cared about it, too. Joan Lenker, another of the bridge’s neighbors, soon joined me. Together, we embarked on this incredible journey, with many ups and downs.
In time, we broadened our support by reaching out to preservation/historical societies, setting up a website and social media pages. We started a petition which eventually garnered almost 1200 signatures in support of restoration of the bridge. We set up a letter-writing campaign and distributed lawn signs. And we continually attended county and township meetings. Soon we were holding “Save Our Bridge” events that attracted much media attention. It seems our historical bridge captured the hearts of many – some traveling from Maryland to visit it!
A visit to the bridge is like taking a step back in time. The immediate area is little changed from when it was first erected, replacing a wooden bridge that was built in 1877. It is located at the end of a rural road, abutting the Yellow Breeches Park, a popular place for canoeing, kayaking, tubing, and fishing. The park also has a small hiking trail and community garden. It is a lovely place to visit, sit and read a book, or simply meditate. It is a place of great peace and tranquility and I venture to say there are few places like it left in the state of Pennsylvania.
On January 29, 2020, the bridge was closed to traffic after failing inspection. Since then, the Sheepford Road Bridge has become a “destination” bridge for walkers, joggers, and cyclists. We keep it decorated with flowers reflecting the season, or holidays. Currently, it is decorated with long-stemmed red roses for Valentine’s Day.
Friends of Sheepford Road Bridge recently worked to have the bridge added to the Cumberland County Register of Historic Places and we plan on having a ceremony at the bridge in the spring to celebrate this recognition.
The hard work of Friends of Sheepford Road Bridge was rewarded in October 2020 when York and Cumberland County Commissioners approved a motion allowing us until October 2022 to come up with a restoration plan for the bridge. Three options were provided to us, all of which require a new owner and the necessary funding to restore the bridge.
Little did we know the second chapter of our story would bring us to this place. We find ourselves in the position, once again, of having much to learn!
We remain focused on our goal – the complete restoration of the Sheepford Road Bridge as a pedestrian bridge with access for emergency vehicles. And we are ever optimistic that we will accomplish this. After all, who would have thought we would have gotten this far?