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Chester County Press

Kennett Township Officially Reopens Historic Chandler Mill Bridge

10/07/2020 07:43PM ● By Richard L. Gaw

For every securely fastened bolt that now belongs to the newly-restored Chandler Mill Bridge in Kennett Township, there are an equal number of roadblocks that the township had to go through in order to make last Friday’s ribbon-cutting reopening event happen.

After a nearly ten-year-long tussle of public hearings and back-and-forth arguments between elected officials and residents, the 110-year-old bridge was officially reopened in ceremonies on Oct. 2, before the township’s Board of Supervisors, all three Chester County Commissioners and some of the key stakeholders who were involved in the bridge’s preservation.

“They say that good things take time,” board chairman Dr. Richard Leff said at the event, which took place at the foot of the bridge. “Well, it took about ten years from when it was closed until we got to this time. What we have here is a good addition. When the rehabilitation began a few months ago, I knew that we were not only preserving parts of Kennett Township’s and the county’s history, but that of Pennsylvania and our nation.”

At the time he was campaigning for his first term as supervisor in 2013, Leff told the audience that PennDOT was proposing to reconstruct the bridge – then owned by Chester County – as a two-lane bridge to accommodate local traffic.

“This was something I don’t think we need in this part of the township,” he said. “It would be just more noise and more traffic just like everywhere else,” he said. “But here – where we are -- is not like everywhere else. We’re on the edge of the township. We’re on the edge of Delaware, and if you stop talking, you can hear the streams and the birds.”

'Long Time Coming'

The reopening of the bridge “has been a long time coming,” said supervisor Scudder Stevens.

“I started my campaign in 2011 fighting over this bridge, and in 2012, I met with the Chester County Commissioners, explaining why we wanted to keep this bridge, while at the same time I had two supervisors (Michael Elling and Robert Hammaker) with me who didn’t want the township to purchase the bridge,” he said.

“It has been a long arduous process, but we were trying to save the integrity of this historic bridge, and it required knowing exactly how bad it was and finding the right company who could put it back together in a functional way. It’s taken us a long time to do it, but we’ve finally succeeded.”

Closed to the public since 2011, the 47-foot-long bridge – which spans the west branch of the Red Clay Creek and is listed on the National Register for Historic Places -- is now accessible to pedestrians, bicycle riders and emergency vehicles only.

The refurbishing of the bridge was done by LobarConstruction at a cost of more than $500,000, which was paid for through grant funding from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.

While public conversations about the bridge date back nearly a decade, it was its sale from the county to the township for $1 in 2014 that kick-started discussions that led to the formation of the bridge’s design ideas, engineering and reconstruction.

With its reopening, the bridge now serves as a key starting point for the Kennett Greenway, a 14-mile loop of connecting trails throughout the township, the Kennett Borough, New Garden Township, East Marlborough Township and Delaware.

‘Quality of Place’

“Our quality of place in Chester County is defined by the equal emphasis of progress and preservation -- preservation of our open paces, our preserves, farmlands, parks and trails, and preservation of our rich history,” said Chester County Commissioners’ Chair Marian Moskowitz at the event. “The plan for the bridge to be part of the larger Kennett Greenway initiative is a terrific example of our important focus on preservation, and all of it was citizen led.”

Moskowitz applauded the efforts of the many citizen volunteers who worked with township officials to preserve the bridge. 

“You all knew that preserving this bridge was important,” she said. “You had the vision. You found the funding. You took the time and work to see that vision through to reality, and here we stand today as a result of your efforts.

“While we commend the township supervisors and all of the municipal leaders and staffers for a job well done, it is you, the residents, the families and the volunteers of this community who we congratulate and who we thank.”

Other speakers at the ceremony included Township Manager Eden Ratliff; Abbie Kessler, preservation director of The Land Conservancy for Southern Chester County; and Christina Norland, executive director of the Kennett Trails Alliance.

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].