THE MAYOR’S REPORT: November in Greencastle and an orphaned bridge

Greencastle Mayor Ben Thomas Jr.

Have you figured out where the orphaned bridge was located in Greencastle? If you were around prior to the 1980s you’ve figured it out. We’ll visit that bridge in just a minute. Time to take a break and join me. It’s been a damp Sunday and the coffee tastes so good today. At least the temps have been in the mid-40-degree range. You know what’s just around the corner?

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November has been a wonderful month in G-A. Over two years ago in 2020, I was invited to speak to the Shady Grove Ruritan Club by Dr. Jerry Harness for their annual recognition of area veterans. Due to COVID, that was postponed until this year. What a great dinner and recognition the Ruritan members gave to the military veterans in attendance on Nov. 15. I spoke of the veterans from G-A including Henry P. Fletcher, who rode with Theodore Roosevelt as part of the Rough Riders during the Spanish American War. He continued serving eight presidents in various positions while residing on South Ridge Avenue at a huge estate known as Rosemont that was constructed by his uncle (Judge David Watson Rowe) in 1872. Lt. Col. Rowe commanded the 126th Pennsylvania Volunteers. He later became president judge of the Franklin County Court. Thank you, Shady Grove Ruritan members, for honoring our veterans.

Greencastle Mayor Ben Thomas Jr.

So, what else has been happening in November? What a wonderful Christmas tree-lighting ceremony Friday evening on Center Square before Thanksgiving and the Christmas parade the following morning. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday as I love turkey! That Thursday morning I stopped by Greencastle Police Headquarters to thank the lone officer who was on duty. He had already had a mental health crisis call. How I remember responding to those calls, especially, over the holidays. Tina and I enjoyed shop small Saturday this past weekend. It was good to see so many people out supporting our locally owned shops and supporting our local economy.

So, you figured it out. The original Walter Avenue bridge didn’t have an owner when it came time to replace it in 1988. Then-Borough Secretary Edwin Bittner worked to secure funds from various entities. Greencastle used the rest of its Federal Revenue Sharing funds for the team effort. The original bridge was built in 1908 and was a lane and a half. At the time, it was OK for horses, buggies and, ultimately, smaller automobiles. The bridge span was the PA Department of Highways Route 11, the main road through Greencastle between Hagerstown and Chambersburg. The bridge spanned over the Cumberland Valley Railroad with two tracks, same as today. As railroads realized financial issues, they were limited on available funds to assist with such projects, especially, as this bridge was part of the PA highway system at the turn of the 20th century.

The Borough of Greencastle took responsibility for the 1908 orphaned bridge over the railroad tracks on Walter Avenue in the 1980s. A new span was dedicated as the Edwin C. Bittner Bridge in 1990 in honor of the borough secretary who was instrumental in its construction.

In 1987 Greencastle took responsibility and hired bridge engineer Michael Hegarty of the Harrisburg area to design the 42-foot cast-in-place, prestressed concrete span structure. I can still hear Mr. Hegarty’s European accent as he visited the site on a regular basis. The modern bridge has a 29-foot width and accommodates two-way traffic and a pedestrian walkway protected by concrete barriers.

Edwin Bittner graduated from Greencastle High School in 1937 and served our nation during World War II in the United States Army. He served as borough council president and then served as the borough secretary (manager) for 23 years. The Walter Avenue Bridge was dedicated as the Edwin C. Bittner Bridge in 1990 with remarks from Greencastle historian William P. Conrad and a ribbon-cutting on a windy fall morning.

 So, since 1988, the bridge has had an owner — the Borough of Greencastle. It’s hard to believe the “new bridge” is already 34 years old. Seems like last year that Mr. Conrad was offering his words of dedication with Mr. Bittner present as the new bridge opened for traffic.

Remember, Greencastle Police food drive is in effect until Nov. 30 with all donations going to the Greencastle Food Pantry for the Christmas holiday. Drop off your donations at 60 N. Washington St.

Be sure to visit the Highline Train Station along South Jefferson Street Dec. 2 and 9 from 5:30 until 8:30 p.m. for the Christmas open house.

Also, congratulations to Ron Eiker on your retirement after four decades of quality automotive care in Greencastle.  

I thank all the men, women, and children who made the events I noted in this writing a wonderful success. Because of you, we are certainly blessed.