A leafy wreath embellished with red ribbons was hung at each end of the red covered bridge in Cherry Hill's Barclay Farm neighborhood last week, continuing a holiday season tradition for the 23rd year.
For the hundreds of residents who commute daily across the two-way Scarborough Covered Bridge, it is something that makes the neighborhood a community.
"I first did it to make our community look pretty during the holiday times," said Sally Callaghan, 86, a mother of five and grandmother of eight, who started the wreath-hanging ritual in 1993. She has moved away, but helped with the ribbons the night before.
Callaghan, who was a bridal consultant before marrying, said she persuaded the Barclay Farm Civic Association to pay for the holiday decorations and firefighters from the Deer Park Fire Company to put them up.
"I think it's a tradition that we're committed to continue. It adds to the beauty of our neighborhood," said Phyllis Jones, 59, treasurer of the civic association, which still pays for the wreaths.
Jones, who has lived for more than 30 years in the development, estimates that 1,800 families live in the neighborhood of New England-style homes.
But Callaghan, who now lives in Mount Laurel, hasn't been the only force behind the neighborhood ritual. Less than 10 years into the tradition, Callaghan entrusted Mimi Cowperthwaite, a Barclay Farm resident, with the task. Cowperthwaite, 59, said she continued the tradition to engage her Boy Scout son with the community.
"Cherry Hill doesn't have a real center anymore," said Cowperthwaite, a retired teacher in the Maple Shade School District. The ceremony, she said, "is a community unifier, and I'm all about that."
And the tradition circled back to the Callaghan family when Sally Callaghan's daughter, Joanne Mitchell, 57, moved four doors down from the bridge and took charge in 2007.
"It marks the beginning of the holiday season," said Mitchell, a retired after-school supervisor at Moorestown Friends School, who organized local firefighters to hang the wreaths Nov. 25.
Mitchell, a mother of two, said she plans on passing on the custom to her 26-year-old daughter, Jennifer Canfield, a teacher who also lives in Barclay and is already helping.
Mitchell recently posted about the family tradition on a community Facebook group, and said she got an overwhelming amount of heartwarming responses from neighbors.
"Thank you, we enjoy them so much," read one comment. "It's nice to see the faces behind the tradition."
"Thank you for sharing the family tradition for all who pass through the bridge," read another comment.
The wreaths, which are removed after New Year's Day, crown a rare surviving covered bridge in New Jersey. The Scarborough, built in 1959, is one of the only two remaining covered bridges in the state. Covered bridges, common in the 19th century, are enclosed to protect wooden structural parts from the weather.
The 55-foot-long Scarborough bridge crosses the North Branch of the Cooper River and is one of the nearly 700 covered bridges being promoted for preservation nationwide. Pennsylvania leads the nation with about 219 remaining covered bridges.
"The covered bridge is the crowning jewel of Barclay," said Judy Whitcraft, 76, owner of Whitcraft Farms in Cherry Hill, the fifth-generation family business that has supplied the wreaths over two decades.
"It's just such a neighborhood thing."