The time has come to repair and renovate the Skinners Falls Bridge
Rocco DeGori is living his version of the American Dream.
He's owner and proprietor of the Milanville General Store, a rustic and charming little business nestled in the woods of Damascus Twp., Wayne County.
Rocco grew up in Long Island, but he's had a connection to this region surrounding the Delaware River since his teen years.
“We love it here,” Rocco said while stocking shelves in the kitchen. “I owned a store back in Long Island, so I thought it might be a good idea to start one here.”
That dream became a reality thanks to years of hard work and dedication. In fact, the Milanville General Store has now been a focal point of the local community for decades.
It's a gathering place for folks from both sides of the Delaware. They stop in for food, groceries, conversation and camaraderie.
Sadly, though, a dark shadow has descended on this happy place and the future appears uncertain.
The DeGoris opened their doors 37 years ago, the first five of those working out of what Rocco refers to as “a broken down old warehouse building.”
“We built this business pretty much from scratch,” he said. “I'm pretty passionate about it.”
Unfortunately, the DeGoris' dream is currently being threatened by the closing of the Skinners Falls Bridge.
This 114-year-old span is located about a mile from the store and represents a major point of access for customers from New York.
It's been closed since December.
“This is really hurting us,” Rocco said. “Right now, it's probably costing us about 25 percent. I don't even want to think about all the business we'll lose during the summer. It might get as high as 40 percent.”
Folks on both sides of the bridge have been equally supportive of the family and the business through the years.
However, in order to visit the Milanville General Store, customers from the NY side must now use a detour that, according to Rocco, takes them 30 minutes out of the way.
It's inconvenient and even dangerous.
“I don't know if you've driven on River Road lately, but it's a mess,” he said. “I guarantee you that there are going to be all kinds of accidents unless something is done.”
Rocco knows what he's talking about. He must take that roundabout detour twice everyday from his home in Cochecton Center.
Rocco is 77-years-old, but possesses the seemingly boundless energy of a man half that age.
He and his wife, Mary Ann, have been married 53 years. And they've spent a great deal of that time working tirelessly at their little store.
Rocco's son, who is also named Rocco, and his daughter-in-law Vanessa, have been at the helm for the past five years. But, the elder DeGoris maintain a daily presence at the store.
You might think that after all these years, Rocco and Mary Ann would be ready for retirement … perhaps a little rest and relaxation after many years of hard work. But, you'd be wrong.
“I love what we do here,” Rocco said with a big smile. The people are wonderful.
“Everybody knows one another and we all look out for each other. It's a great place to live and work.”
Its official name is the “Milanville Bridge,” although locals have long referred to it as the “Skinners Falls Bridge.
The span stretches nearly 470 feet from Pennsylvania to New York across the Delaware River.
The Skinners Falls Bridge officially opened in November of 1902 and cost $14,000, the equivalent of $366,500 today.
Up until the mid-1920s, Skinners Falls had been a toll bridge. Cars were charged 22 cents to cross.
However, the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission bought the company out and tolls were permanently eliminated.
Thanks to the bridge and its now unlimited access, businesses prospered on both sides of the river.
The span did withstand many subsequent natural assaults, including Hurricanes Connie and Diane. However, there were no real issues with it until the mid 1980s.
The Skinners Falls Bridge was shut down briefly in 1986 and again in 2010 for renovations.
Most recently, an inspection done by PennDOT in December 2015 revealed damage to suspension wires that made it unsafe to bear the weight of cars and trucks.
Unfortunately, the bridge is now closed again and the future can best be described as “uncertain.”
Mike Taluto, PennDOT's safety Press Officer for District Four, believes that there may be hope for an eventual re-opening, but that the process could take quite some time.
“It's really a safety issue,” Taluto said. “And, right now there's just no money and no timetable.”
“There may come a day when we're able to re-open the bridge for traffic and/or pedestrians. But, right now I just can't really say.”
Taluto did point out that any resolution would involve a cooperative effort from officials on both sides of the bridge.
Wayne County Commissioner Brian Smith understands the complexity of the problem.
He lives in Milanville, knows the DeGoris well, and has shopped at the General Store for years.
“This is right in my backyard, so I'm very familiar with the situation,” he said. “The Skinners Falls bridge is really important to businesses and families on both sides.
“The Commissioners have been in contact with PennDOT and they are acutely aware of our concerns. I personally think something's going to get done. But, right now it's a matter of finding the money to do it.”
Smith went on to say that he knows the bridge has sustained damage over the years from people ignoring the posted four ton weight limit and driving heavier vehicles over it.
“We know how important that bridge is to businesses and homeowners,” Smith said. “We'll try to do whatever we can to help things move forward.”
Sign up now
Meanwhile, back at the Milanville General Store, the DeGori Family has set up a petition for folks to sign,
It urges the “powers that be” to repair and re-open the Skinners Falls Bridge.
As The Wayne Independent went to press on Friday afternoon, nearly 1,000 signatures had been gathered at the store and online.
“If that bridge stays closed permanently, I don't know what will happen to us,” Rocco said. “I'm really worried. We've already got a lot of support, but we need all we can get.”
If you'd like to voice your support for the repair and re-opening of the Skinners Falls Bridge, visit the Milanville General Store in person or online at their Facebook page.