Zinn’s Mill Road, a rural road in southern Lebanon County, has been closed for 40 years because of an abandoned railroad bridge that was never replaced in the 1980s.
Since then, Zinn’s Mill Road has only been open to local traffic.
And it doesn’t look like that will change any time soon, as there are no current plans to replace the bridge. In fact, Zinn’s Mill Road could remain the way it is – a forgotten, cul-de-sac-interrupted secondary road that has become a refuge for the few local residents who live along it – for the foreseeable future.
Steve Laicha owns and operates Laicha’s Nursery at 545 Zinn’s Mill Road, and his 80-acre property borders the land where the railroad bridge once stood.
“I love it the way it is,” he said. “It’s nice and quiet. There’s no traffic. It used to be a short cut from Route 72 back and forth to State Drive. I think all the other neighbors agree.”
“I’ve never heard it talked about,” said Cody Rhoads, who’s been Cornwall Borough manager for the past three years. “I think you can make the case that it’s worked for the past 35 to 40 years. We’re not trying to re-invent anything and it would be a big cost to taxpayers.”
The abandoned bridge in question is about half a mile on either side of Cornwall Road and South Lincoln Avenue. The bridge once spanned the former bed of the railroad that connected Cornwall and Lebanon, and the railroad bed is now part of a Rail-to-Trail segment linking South Lebanon and Cornwall.
The railroad bridge was torn down in the 1980s after the old steel-and-wood structure had deteriorated, apparently due to a lack of maintenance.
“It’s certainly unique,” said Rhoads. “You certainly don’t see something like this too often. It’s not something I’ve personally run into. Maybe there was some agreement in place. I don’t know the impetus of why they didn’t replace it.”
“Why go and replace it?” said Laicha. “If it would’ve been used more heavily, they would’ve replaced it. Since they improved Evergreen Road, all the traffic goes that way. There are really no fiscal or economic reasons to put it (the bridge) back in. There are other ways to get around it. This road wasn’t being used much anyway.”
What was once a thoroughfare is now a pair of similar dead ends, on both the west and east sides of the span of the former railroad bridge. At some point, cul-de-sacs were installed to provide unsuspecting motorists a place to turn around.
The rusted remnants of the former bridge are barely visible in the overgrown brush that now borders the west side of the Rail-to-Trail.
“There used to be a lot of cars turning around,” said Laicha. “But when GPS came out, that number drastically came down. Some GPS systems didn’t list the bridge as being abandoned. Now it happens occasionally, there are maybe one or two cars a month that go down and turn around.”
“I think over the years, people have found ways around it,” said Rhoads. “There is an alternate route – Whitman Road. I suspect that’s what motorists use to get around it. I think the people who live there like less traffic and a more tranquil setting.”
Adding even more intrigue to the situation is the fact that no one is quite sure in which township the abandoned bridge’s span over Zinn’s Mill Road is located – Cornwall Borough or South Lebanon Township. At this time, any question of financial responsibility for a multi-million-dollar project that would replace the bridge seems like a moot point.
“No one ever brought this up to me. No one,” said Rhoads. “Maybe the residents who live there have always been content. I hope that back when it happened, there was a concrete reason they did this. But I don’t have the answer to that question.
“Bridges are certainly expensive,” he added. “We’re really diligent with the money we spend. It would probably have to be a joint venture. But never say never.”
“I think the bridge was originally built in the 1800s,” said Laicha. “It had steel trusses with a wooden deck. The railroad went out of business and the townships didn’t want to spend the money. The townships would have to agree upon it and people would have to request it. I think there is zero chance that it is ever rebuilt. It would probably cost millions of dollars.”
To the west, rural Zinn’s Mill Road originates in Quentin and runs through Fairview Golf Course and across Quentin Road to Cornwall Road. After intersecting with Lincoln Avenue in South Lebanon Township, it ends at State Drive.
“I think mainly it was an old dirt road back in the day, because there were all farms along there,” said Laicha. “It’s all agricultural origins I imagine. That’s why Zinn’s Mill Road is so narrow.
“Even when I was a kid, people would speed on Zinn’s Mill Road and at one point if you went fast enough, you could almost get airborne,” added Laicha. “Kids would go there and park and have parties. Since it was closed down, the traffic has decreased. It makes it a little more quiet.”
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