A tradition passed down from generation to generation in a Cherry Hill family centers on long-leaf yellow pine timber and the marketing genius of a homebuilder.
The family of Joanne Mitchell, and her mother, Sally Callaghan, before her, are modern-day bridgekeepers, watching over the 63-year-old Scarborough Covered Bridge in the town's Barclay Farm section.
Dedicated on Valentine's Day in the year of Mitchell's birth (1959), the bridge is a historical gem in a suburban community that does not have an abundance of historical structures, having exploded from farmland and orchards in the 1950s and 1960s to accommodate baby-boom families seeking a newly constructed home on land of their own.
In recent months, Mitchell has become known around Town Hall, as she has sounded the alarm over the bridge's deteriorated roof, rusted railings and overgrowth by trees and poison ivy.
Mitchell, who lives on Covered Bridge Road less than a quarter-mile from the bridge, credited what she called a "pro active" Township Public Works Department with answering the call by trimming the potentially damaging vegetation entwined in the bridge. The Township also has accepted a bid to repair the rusted railings and soon will go out to bid for a new roof, it was announced at Monday night's Township Council meeting.
"It was showing its age," Mitchell told 70and73.com in an interview in her living room this week. She took photos of the decay and sent them to Mayor Susan Shin Angulo, urging the Township to give the bridge some attention.
The 52-foot-long bridge, with wooden plank walkways on either side, crosses the North Branch of the Cooper River and carries traffic north and south through the development.
Homebuilder Robert K. "Bob" Scarborough in the late 1950s was building the Colonial-style development off Route 70 and decided to spend $32,000 to make the bridge covered partly because, he said, he fancied covered bridges but also as a unique way to market his new homes.
"Strange as it seems, it is the first covered bridge built in New Jersey in 93 years," reported a February 12, 1959 Camden Courier-Post story in advance of the ceremony making what was then Delaware Township the owner.
Scarborough needed to build a bridge to connect the tracts he owned, so "he thought a covered bridge would be a nice selling point," according to a Philadelphia Inquirer article in 1993, when the Collingswood homebuilder was interviewed. Scarborough died in 2011 at age 88.
The marketing-conscious builder chose Valentine's Day in 1959 as the perfect date to dedicate the covered bridge. Covered bridges historically have been called "kissing bridges" because a loving couple passing through in their horse and buggy could smooch out of sight.
"At high noon, each couple taking part in a 'dedication kiss' on the Barclay Farm covered bridge will receive a nosegay of violets from the Allied Florists of Philadelphia, and a Polaroid-Land picture of themselves, printed in one minute, right on the scene," a Scarborough newspaper advertisement announced the day before the 1959 dedication ceremony, when the bridge was turned over to the Township.
"Why not take part in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring the children and dedicate the newest wooden covered bridge in New Jersey…in the world?" the ad asked.
Next to the Scarborough bridge invitation on the Camden Courier-Post's page was an ad from Volney G. Bennett Lumber Company of Camden. "This is probably the first time we have supplied long-leaf yellow pine timbers for a covered bridge since we were known as Central Lumber Yard back in 1876," the ad touted. The bridge was designed by architect Malcolm Wells.
Scarborough's development has done well: Newly built homes in Barclay Farm sold in 1958 for $17,900 to $24,500 and today some are listed for $400,000 to $500,000 and higher. The $24,500 is equivalent to $250,393 in 2022 inflation-adjusted dollars.
Others in the community support the bridge and view it as a key part of the Township's history.
"The Scarborough Covered Bridge serves to bridge the past and the present, connect community and is an icon of quality and craftsmanship," Martha Wright, a community advocate, told 70and73.com in an email.
Wright, who lives on Munn Lane and has been concerned about the bridge's condition, said Scarborough had foresight to build the bridge and "the Mitchell family had similar foresight by lovingly maintaining and decorating the bridge each year with holiday wreaths. I commend them for their dedication and investment in community character and neighborhood values."
In 1967, Mitchell as a youngster moved with her family onto Shelly Lane, which is around the corner from the bridge.
Her mother was involved with the Barclay Farmstead Museum and in 1993 began to coordinate the annual hanging of Christmas wreaths on the bridge, a tradition that Mitchell observes today. Whitcraft Farms on Kresson Road provides the wreaths, the Barclay Area Civic Association pays for them and the fire department puts them up, Mitchell said.
"She loved that covered bridge," Mitchell recalled.
Besides providing a way for cars to cross the water and a unique place to walk, the bridge also hosts many groups for prom and wedding photographs each year. Mitchell's daughter, Jennifer (Mitchell) Canfield, had her engagement and wedding photos shot at the bridge.
Joanne Mitchell and her husband, Bill Mitchell, continue to check on and advocate for the bridge.
And son Dan Mitchell and daughter Jennifer are equally as passionate. Dan lives at home and Jennifer lives on Suffolk Court with husband Collin Canfield and their 2-year-old son, Liam, and Declan, an 8-month-old son.
Jennifer vowed to stay active with the bridge well into the future.
"I think the torch will be passed," she told 70and73.com.