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After being reduced to a few Christmas-themed lights last year, the annual White Mills bridge lighting returned to scale Sunday night.
The bridge reopened in September after being closed for more than a year because of an act of vandalism resulting in several thousand dollars worth of electrical damage, said Tim Dennis, minister of White Mills Christian Church.
Close to $600,000 in state funds were used to repair the historic iron bridge, he said. According to Dennis, an arrest never was made.
For the White Mills community, Sunday’s annual lighting ceremony marked not only the beginning of the Christmas season but another celebration of the historic bridge, Dennis said.
He estimated more than 300 people attended Sunday night’s festivities, which also included a parade, chili dinner and a living nativity scene.
“I think people are celebrating the bridge reopening and the decorating,” he said about the crowd.
The town has been hosting the lighting ceremony since 1991. It expanded to add the parade and chili dinner about 15 years ago.
According to Dennis, the Delbert Masterson family was a “driving force” behind re-wiring of the bridge.
This year’s decorations included some new features, he said, including star and cross figurines that alternated white and blue in color.
The traditional series of arches were made using rope lights designed by the White Mills Fire Department, which Dennis said he hopes prevents people from smashing individual bulbs.
“It’s a little different than what it’s been in the past,” he said.
Proceeds from the chili dinner are donated to Lakewood Elementary School’s Family Resource Center, Dennis said.
Lewis Graham, one of the organizers of the dinner, said his family uses an “old camp recipe.”
Cooks make approximately 7 1/2 pots of chili that requires about 90 pounds of ground hamburger, Graham said. He estimated it takes about two hours to grind the meat.
White Mills resident Robie Richardson said he’s lived “on and off” in the area for about 50 years and attends the bridge lighting every year.
“It’s just where the community comes together,” Richardson said.
The reopening of the bridge in particular was a reason to celebrate, he said.
“Nobody else has an iron bridge,” Richardson said. “It’s just part of White Mills.”
Sarah Bennett can be reached at (270) 505-1750 or firstname.lastname@example.org.