Chesco bridge added to National Register

posted Thu, Jan 14, 2010

Philadelphia Inquirer, By Kathleen Brady Shea, Staff Writer

A Chester County bridge that has failed to span the divide between those pushing preservation and those urging demolition has a new distinction: placement on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Chandler Mill Bridge, a 99-year-old stone-and-steel structure in Kennett Township, was listed on Monday, said Paloma Bolasny, a historian with the National Register.

Fittingly for a bridge with a recent history of conflict, officials called the designation "unusual." Federal historians approved it, rejecting the state's recommendation against it, Bolasny said, adding that such disagreement was not unprecedented.

On the registration form, federal officials noted the bridge's "high integrity" and "local significance as evaluated with the historic context of transportation in Kennett Township and bridge engineering in Chester County."

Kirk Wilson, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, said the state's decision to reject the nomination was based on input from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

Monica Harrower, a PennDot architectural historian, said state officials concluded that the bridge was one of thousands of similar structures in Pennsylvania.

"It's a common bridge," she said, adding that it was not "technically significant."

Regardless of the assessment, the designation does not guarantee that the bridge, a one-lane structure over the West Branch of the Red Clay Creek, will be spared the wrecking ball.

Stephen Fromnick, director of Chester County's Department of Facilities Management, said months ago that county engineers had deemed the bridge unsafe and unsalvageable regardless of whether it was historic.

But Dee Durham, executive director of Safety, Agriculture, Villages and Environment Inc., one of several bridge-advocacy groups, was delighted by the news.

"It's not a panacea, but I think it's huge," Durham said. "It verifies what the community has been saying for four years."

Durham said she hoped the historic designation would give officials reason to pause before taking further action.  

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