Covered Bridge Christmas wreaths continue family tradition

Mitchell presides over annual decorative touch in Barclay Farms.

Barclay Farms resident Joanne Mitchell (right) poses with daughter Jennifer Mitchell Canfield (left) inside one of the wreaths which adorn the iconic structure on Covered Bridge Road each year since the early 1990s. A tradition begun by Mitchell’s mother, the late Sally Callaghan, soon there will be a fourth generation involved in keeping the holiday spirit alive. (Photo credit: Bill Mitchell/Special to the Sun)

For the last 27 years, like clockwork, festive and decorative Christmas wreaths  adorn both sides of the russet-colored iconic enclosure along Covered Bridge Road in the Barclay Farms section of Cherry Hill.

This year, despite the prolonged pandemic and some less-than-festive pre-Thanksgiving weather, longtime Barclay resident Joanne Mitchell once again presided over the wreath hanging, with some help from the Cherry Hill Fire Department. 

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It’s the continuation of a tradition originated from a family with deep roots in the neighborhood.

“My mother started doing this in 1993, but my mother and father had been residents in Barclay Farms for a long time before they decided to do the wreaths,” Mitchell revealed in a conversation with the Sun on Nov. 30.

The irrepressible Sally Callaghan and other like-minded women in the neighborhood were deeply invested in the community, getting together for things like organizing for the Barclay Farmstead; the arts advisory board; and pretty much anything that went into beautifying the area and the township, Mitchell added. 

The roadway and bridge, built back in 1959 to unify the two separate sections of the area — thanks to the wisdom and vision of Bob Scarborough — features a plaque that bears his name on the southbound side. 

Callaghan thought hanging wreaths in the six-week holiday window would be a nice touch. The first year they went up, the Delaware Valley experienced some wild weather more indicative of New England or the intermountain West. But Mitchell said unpredictable weather wasn’t responsible for the times the wreaths weren’t able to be hung. 

“These wreaths often come from Canada and the upper parts of the United States like the Midwest, and so in some years we’ve had some wreaths waylaid and not gotten them up on the bridge until December,” she explained. “We always try our best to get the wreaths up by the day before Thanksgiving.” 

Mitchell said once the wreaths arrive in town, usually at Whitcraft Farms, one of the two neighborhood community associations will foot the bill.  Depending on what company transports the wreaths from their original location, total cost including shipping has never gone past $300. 

The decorations usually stay up for the six-week window from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day, and then are removed. 

This year’s wreath in its usual position at the entrance to the bridge heading south on Covered Bridge Road, Nov. 25.

“We leave them up through the New Year, and then my contact in the Cherry Hill Fire Department comes and takes them down,” Mitchell said. “They usually come the first week of January, but sometimes we ask them to come and take them, and then they all of a sudden get a call and it has to wait.”

Once the wreaths are removed, they are never used again. Mitchell and her husband Bill, who act as liaisons between Whitcraft, the community association and the fire department, take the responsibility of moving them to their house and disassembling them. 

Mitchell’s mother ended her involvement with the project when she moved out of Barclay and downsized to a home in Mt. Laurel in 2012. Before Mitchell assumed control completely, another resident offered to organize for several years, before choosing to pass the baton to Mitchell. 

Callaghan’s last year to enjoy what she started was 2016. She passed away not much longer after the calendar flipped to 2017, knowing the tradition was in safe and familiar hands.

Granddaughter Jennifer Mitchell Canfield, who also lives in Barclay, assists her mother every year, and the next generation won’t be too far behind.

“Jennifer’s been well invested since she started working with my mother,” Mitchell added. “My son is also around, but he’s not as involved as my daughter. But my grandson will get the chance to do it when his time comes.”

The wreath laying is proof that it’s not always the grandest of gestures that bring the most joy, and Mitchell revels in her role. 

“A lot of people thank me for this,” she beamed. “Tradition is a good thing, right? It really makes the bridge look nice. It makes people happy for a couple of weeks. 

“That’s all that matters.”

Former radio broadcaster, hockey writer, Current: main beat reporter for Haddonfield, Cherry Hill and points beyond.
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