Santa Says

Sharing a laugh with Jolly Old St. Nick this morning at the Long Grove Coffee Company.

Sharing a laugh with Jolly Old St. Nick this morning at the Long Grove Coffee Company.

Feeling virtuous after surviving my morning strength training session, I stopped by downtown Long Grove to reward myself with an eggnog latte (I know…not as nutritious as a smoothie…but ’tis the season!) and what to my wondering eyes did appear–Santa! Seizing the opportunity for an interview, I spent a few minutes basking in his holiday glow and finding out what was up for the day.

Santa gave his reindeer this sunny Saturday off as he claimed to have driven himself to Long Grove, cruising down our newly resurfaced Old McHenry Road in his convertible, with the top down! I guess our 30 degree temps might feel tropical to someone acclimated to the North Pole. I asked him what kind of cookies he would like us to leave out this year on Christmas Eve, and get this–he is cutting back on the calories this holiday season and working out five times a week! Kudos to Santa for being a role model for healthy living, even though I still could not resist the temptation of the eggnog.

Visitors to Long Grove will get numerous chances to see Santa as he is spending the entire day in town, greeting families and listening to children’s wish lists at various shops and restaurants. The top of my wish list? Seeing our covered bridge restored. Tonight Santa is paying a special visit to the Historical Society farmhouse, to lead the start of holiday carols at 6:00 pm for our annual Yuletide Sing. This family friendly event is free and will feature complimentary hot chocolate and fire pits for warmth. I invited Santa to be our guest later tonight at the Fred Astaire Dance Studio’s Holiday Ball, “Dance your way to Fred’s Chalet.” Alas, even though Santa loves to dance he has plans to thank the local volunteers who make up the CERT team of first-responders, at their Christmas party. No doubt about it, Santa is a busy man these days spreading hope, happiness and holiday cheer throughout the village.

Small Business Saturday

Horse-drawn carriage rides are a special treat on weekends this holiday season in Long Grove.

Horse-drawn carriage rides are a special treat on weekends this holiday season in Long Grove.

Yesterday was Small Business Saturday. My family participated by patronizing a few of the shops in our favorite small business shopping district–downtown Long Grove. Roving carolers helped set a festive mood and fellow shoppers were enjoying the annual carriage rides around the crossroads, showcasing two great reasons to celebrate the season in the unique ambiance of our historic village. Check out below some of the many smiling faces that I encountered:

Judy, at the Long Grove Confectionery, who cheerfully wrapped my grab bag gift for the Bunco Party.

Judy, at the Long Grove Confectionery, who cheerfully wrapped my grab bag gift for the upcoming bunco party.

Matt, at Scout and Forge, who showed me some vintage treasures and recently became a new Dad!

Matt, at Scout and Forge, who showed me some vintage treasures and recently became a new Dad!

Rachel at Epilogue, who helped me pick out the perfect hostess gift to bring to the Holiday Party that evening.

Rachel, at Epilogue, who helped me pick out the perfect hostess gift to bring to the cocktail party that evening.

Marian, at Within Reach (on the left), who helped me select something adorable for my newborn grandson!

Marian, at Within Reach (on the left), who helped me select something adorable for my newborn grandson!

Mary, at the Long Grove Coffee Company, caught in a random act of kindness delivering Small Business Saturday balloons and a hot beverage to a fellow merchant.

Mary, at the Long Grove Coffee Company, caught in a random act of kindness delivering Small Business Saturday balloons and a hot beverage to a fellow merchant.

During this holiday season it’s easy to find reasons to support our local merchants. I’ll be back in the weeks ahead to dine and dance and shop with my Christmas list in hand. I encourage you to do the same!

A Scary Night in Long Grove

John Kopecky, Aaron Underwood and Jessie Visocnik (L to R) work to set the scene for "A Scary Night at the Farmhouse."

John Kopecky, Aaron Underwood and Jessie Visocnik (L to R) doing some pre-haunting of the Historical Society lawn for “A Scary Night at the Farmhouse.”

This past Friday, October 26th, things were feeling very “Halloweenish” in downtown Long Grove. Merchants hosted kids in costumes for trick-or-treating in the late afternoon, and the streets were alive with mini ghouls and ghosts sprinkled amidst the princesses and superheroes. I happened to be taking a dance lesson at Fred Astaire during this time, and it was a delight to see so many young families stopping in for candy. And hats off to the enthusiastic Dad who dressed as a purple and rainbow accessorized unicorn

A cute and scary trick-or-treater is greeted at the Long Grove Visitor's Center by our official Halloween host, Mortimer Coffin.

A scary but cute trick-or-treater is greeted at the Long Grove Visitor’s Center by our official Halloween host, Mortimer Coffin.

Later in the evening, the Historical Society Farmhouse became haunted with singing witches and warlocks, under the direction of crypt-keeper for the evening, Mike Dvorak. Families enjoyed relaxing on the patio with fire pits for warmth and spooky atmosphere. The Ghost of Cuba Road was even spotted in the back yard among the treeline, forever searching for directions. My personal favorite musical number of the evening was a custom version of “Werewolves of Long Grove.”

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Setting the scene for scary songs and stories!

Another sighting of the Ghost occurred at Buffalo Creek Brewing following the show. Apparently, all that haunting works up a powerful appetite!

Amy Gayton (L) and John Kopecky (R) join the Ghost of Cuba Road for a post-show pizza party. Hey, all that haunting works up a powerful appetite!

Amy Gayton (L) and John Kopecky (R) join the Ghost of Cuba Road for a post-show pizza party.

No place in Long Grove was safe, as Frankenstein was even spotted at the Dance Studio, menacing the local villagers.

Happy Halloween!

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Ashuelot Doppelgänger

Visiting the Ashuelot, New Hampshire covered bridge on October 15, 2018.

Visiting the Ashuelot, New Hampshire covered bridge on October 15, 2018.

In the early 1970’s Robert Parker Coffin looked for some inspiration when designing a cover for Long Grove’s 1906 metal truss bridge over Buffalo Creek. According to the story, the covered bridge spanning the Ashuelot river in New Hampshire provided some ideas to Mr. Coffin (an architect and former Village President) who oversaw the building of what later became the iconic village symbol in Long Grove, Illinois.

This week, finding myself in New England on a vacation to enjoy the fall colors, I had to satisfy my curiosity by paying a visit to Ashuelot to view the original bridge. In addition to the beautiful autumn foliage, we spotted many wild turkeys as we made our way into the tiny town, spread along the riverside. The bridge itself is quite long, painted white with a red roof and a covered walkway on both sides. I did notice a striking similarity in the appearance of the entrance, and in the way that the posts and arches over the openings felt familiar.

Another bit of nostalgia was the warm feeling of goosebumps that I got driving underneath the wooden covering from one side to another. I can’t wait until we are able to experience that once again in Long Grove. As we concluded our visit several cars of tourists arrived with cameras in hand, verifying the attraction feature this bridge also shares with our hometown symbol back in Illinois. There is no doubt that covered bridges evoke a special kind of charm appreciated across the country.

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Witches Night Out

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Now that Fall is in full swing and Halloween is fast approaching, downtown Long Grove has several special events planned to help get you in the holiday “spirit.” My favorite fun and creative new idea this year is Witches Night Out, being held next Thursday evening, October 18th from 5 to 8 pm. Stores in the historic downtown will be staying open late and the restaurants in town will be offering special themed menu items to taste and sip. Wear your favorite pointy hat and you might even have an opportunity to bedazzle it! I have also heard tales that fortune tellers, tarot card readers, and even an enchanted D.J. may be conjured up to add to the evening’s excitement. The spell has been cast–don’t miss this girls and ghouls gathering!

Other Spooktacular Downtown Long Grove Events in the next few weeks include:

Scarecrow Day:  Saturday, October 13th from 11-4 outside Country House on Robert Parker Coffin Road. Bring your own clothes and props and for a $5 donation you will receive the supplies and help to create an original scarecrow masterpiece.

Trick or Treating:  Friday, October 26th from 2-5. Dress your little ones in costume and trick or treat at the downtown Long Grove stores and businesses. Parents can register for a prize drawing at the Information Center.

A Scary Night at the Farmhouse:  Friday, October 26th from 7-7:45 pm at the Historical Society Farmhouse. Enjoy a family friendly Halloween themed variety show and sing-a-long outdoors on the back porch patio. Fire pits will provide some warmth and be sure to bring your folding chairs. Spooky stories and songs to delight all ages.

Halloween Pet Parade:  Sunday, October 28th from 12-4:30. Dress your furry friend in their most adorable costume–prizes will be awarded!

Pardon Our Dust

Long Grove residents Dave and Amy Gayton (on the left) join me in checking out the giant excavation at the crossroads in Long Grove during Apple Fest 2018.

Long Grove residents Dave and Amy Gayton (on the left) join me in checking out the giant excavation at the crossroads in Long Grove during Apple Fest 2018.

Anyone who has dared to venture into the Long Grove historic downtown in the past several weeks can tell you that it’s been a challenge navigating around all the various construction obstacles. Storm sewers are being installed, pavement dug out, building foundations reinforced, utilities relocated, roads temporarily closed–you name it–everything is converging into one giant mess of inconvenience. While there has been a fair amount of road work going on since April of this year, crews have recently ramped up the pace in an effort to complete as much as possible before winter sets in and puts an end to the road paving season. The Old McHenry Road reconstruction and intersection improvements project is being undertaken by Lake County DOT. Starting this coming Tuesday, October 9th, at 6 a.m. a portion of Old McHenry Road will be closed to all through traffic with reopening anticipated in November. Click here for more details and to view a map of the detour.

All stores in downtown Long Grove have remained open during the construction, but as you can imagine, with torn up streets and sidewalks it has made getting from place to place an adventure. Shopkeepers that I spoke to this week are drawing on reserves of patience and optimism, and looking forward to brighter days ahead with freshly paved roads and sidewalks, new lighting and streetscaping, and a refreshed look to our historic crossroads. One big change on the horizon is the traffic signal soon to be installed on the corner of Old McHenry Road and Robert Parker Coffin Road.

The construction this summer has been a hardship on not just the Long Grove businesses, but for all those who need to commute through the area en route to jobs and schools. In addition, the local non-profit community groups have had to alter or cancel activities and fundraisers due to the disruption. The Arts & Music Council held an abbreviated concert series this summer due to work scheduled near Towner Green. The Rotary Club was unable to hold their annual Heritage Run this September and have replaced it with an Octoberfest fundraiser at Buffalo Creek Brewing this coming Saturday, October 6th. The Historical Society has unfortunately had to cancel their popular Ghost Walk this year due to safety concerns with walking groups of families in the construction zone amidst the Halloween darkness, detours, and pedestrian restricted areas. A much smaller (but still spooky) family event is being planned at the farmhouse on the evening of October 26th.

So what can we all do to help our village during the next couple of difficult months? Make it a point to patronize the downtown restaurants, shop for gifts in the local stores, pick up your morning latte at one of our downtown coffee shops instead of cruising the drive thru just because it is more convenient. Continue to contribute to our local non-profits, even if their signature fundraisers have been temporarily sidelined. By supporting each other our community can sustain through the construction disruption. In the meantime, pardon our dust, because one day soon this construction will all be in the past and the improvements will be well worth the wait!

Small Town Sweetness

Pictured above are the awesome local kids who volunteered to help run the games for the younger kids at the Historical Society Penny Carnival.

Pictured above are many of the awesome local kids who volunteered to help run the games for the younger kids at the Historical Society Penny Carnival.

I grew up in small town America. The Central Illinois farming community where I was born has a population of only 2,000 and a Main Street lined with historic buildings and a vintage train depot. Even though Long Grove is a suburb of Chicago, and with it’s 8,000 residents is quadruple the size of my hometown, there are times when it truly feels like a close-knit village. Case in point–our recent Vintage Days weekend. The Historical Society sponsored two family events run by kids, for kids, and it was heartwarming to be part of the festivities.

What's a Penny Carnival without a penny pitch game?

What’s a Penny Carnival without a penny pitch game?

The Penny Carnival

Older kids readily volunteered to organize old-fashioned games for younger children on the lawn of our 1860’s farmhouse. Costing only 1 cent per game, kids could have fun playing pirate ring toss, duck pond, ring the bell, and the ever-popular frog launch. It was incredibly sweet to see the teens and tweens patiently helping the little ones pitch pennies and redeem tickets for prizes, and generating happy smiles all around. Everything needed to man and run this event was donated, highlighting genuine community spirit. Here is a quote overheard at the event:

“This Penny Carnival epitomizes small town ambiance at its best–children laughing, adults chatting, frogs flying. Kudos to the organizers!” 

Local kids also showcased their talent by performing an original play about our town's history entitled, "Good Times with the Gridleys." The cast is shown here crossing "Fifteen Miles on the Erie Canal."

Local kids also showcased their talent by performing an original play about our town’s history entitled, “Good Times with the Gridleys.” The cast is shown here crossing “Fifteen Miles on the Erie Canal.”

The Back Porch Players

Twelve talented local middle and elementary school students, with assistance by Narrator and Musician Mike Dvorak and professional Puppeteer Krist Neumann, performed an original show on the farmhouse back porch. “Good Times with the Gridleys,” told the story of the founding of Long Grove in the mid-1800’s and featured historical songs and real-life historical characters. My personal favorite was an original song involving the entire cast called, “The Long Grove Bridge.”  

Click this link below to watch a five minute video of highlights from the show:

 

The Inner Beauty

The demolition crew started bright and early this morning on removal of the damaged wooden canopy of the Long Grove bridge.

The demolition crew started bright and early this morning on removal of the damaged wooden canopy over the Long Grove bridge.

It was a bittersweet moment today watching the remains of the covered bridge being dismantled. Feeling sad as I gathered early this morning with members of the Historical Society, Arts & Music Council, and downtown merchants, it was a comfort to see the care being taken by the demolition crew to salvage as much of the original boards as possible. Village staff has arranged for storage of the old wood and the local non-profits are hopeful that they will be allowed to re-purpose it to benefit our Village and commemorate the bridge’s historical significance.

The demolition is expected to be completed this coming Monday, September 10th. Temporary clearance bars are planned to be installed on both sides of the bridge in addition to jersey barriers. This is to keep overweight and over-height vehicles and trucks from using the bridge and causing damage to the historic metal supports and foundations. Once these measures are in place IDOT engineers will inspect the bridge and if all goes well it could be opened to vehicular and pedestrian traffic as early as next week. In the months ahead the Village Board will be considering bids for the reconstruction of the wooden covering, which is likely to occur in the spring of 2019.

To those of us that worked so hard towards getting the bridge on the National Register, it was certainly melancholy to witness our icon coming down. But when I stopped back late this afternoon to check on the progress, I began to notice something more:

With the bridge covering two-thirds removed, the historic iron truss and walkway begin to emerge and become more visible.

With the bridge covering two-thirds removed, the historic iron truss and walkway begin to emerge and become more visible.

With the covering gone on the majority of the bridge, the original 1906 Pratt Pony truss and walkway is now fully visible and no longer partially hidden by the wooden “hat” it was given in 1972. The historical elements that qualified our bridge for federal recognition are now on glorious display. As I snapped a few additional photos I chatted with shop owners, Montessori school moms, neighbors, friends, and the Village Engineer who all joined in with me to admire the beautiful ironwork from a century past. The real treasure of our covered bridge is still intact. The wooden covering will be rebuilt in a matter of months. The demolition this morning is really just the first step towards another century in the life of our iconic covered bridge, with a special inner beauty shining most vividly today.

Muttersholtz Around the World

Notice a picture of our Long Grove Village Hall on the upper right of the cover of the Muttersholtz municipal newsletter.

Notice a picture of our Long Grove Village Hall on the upper right of the cover of the Muttersholtz municipal newsletter.

Earlier this summer I was contacted by Martine Kilcher, the Deputy Mayor of the town of Muttersholtz, France. She was putting together a feature for their September, 2018 municipal newsletter on places around the world that have a special connection or “twinning” with their village. Long Grove was founded in part by descendants of settlers from Muttersholtz in the mid-1800’s, and went by that name for several years before officially becoming the Village of Long Grove. I was glad to be able to write a short piece about our history and current events, and provide a few pictures for our friends in Europe to see what our village in America, inspired by Muttersholtz, looks like today. From Martine I learned that Muttersholtz is also very ecology minded, even receiving a special designation for this. Our villages both share a historic downtown crossroads with vintage buildings, and have had local craft breweries open in the past few years. It was a delightful experience to connect with Martine and we have even kept up with each other’s organizations through Facebook. When our covered bridge was listed on the National Register our Historical Society received congratulations from France, and when it was damaged a few weeks later they shared in our sorrow. To learn more about Muttersholtz, France click on this link.

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Here is the English translation for the article (above) that appears in the September, 2018 issue of the Muttersholtz municipal newsletter:

“Long Grove is an American city, located at about 50 km from Chicago, Illinois. It has about 8,500 inhabitants. It is not twinned with our commune, but part of its population is made up of descendants of Muttersholtzois who founded a village after having migrated to the United States. The name was Muttersholtz firstly. These are also our faraway cousins ​​who erected the parish church at the end of the 19th century. The people of Long Grove have been able to preserve their environment, which is composed of grasslands, forests and wet areas. The inhabitants are particularly proud of their covered bridge, which spans the Buffalo Creek and which has just been registered in the American Heritage. As with us, they like to party there. Each year a Strawberry Festival, an Apple Festival, a Festival of the chocolate and Saint Nicolas is honored. A brewery opened last year. To honor the story of the village, one of the first beers brewed was named Muttersholtz and, on July 21, the brewery organized a Muttersholtz Fest to celebrate the first year opening.”

King for a Day

Long Grove resident Gracie Mower shows her award-winning pooch, "Willie" who captured the title of King in the dog beauty contest at Irish Days this weekend.

Long Grove resident Gracie Mower shows her award-winning pooch, “Willie” who captured the title of King in the dog beauty contest at Irish Days this weekend.

I am always a little sad to see summer come to a close on Labor Day. Fortunately, in Long Grove we have a celebration to take my mind off the changing season with the annual Irish Days festivities.  Even though the weather was a bit touch and go as we dodged the occasional raindrops, fun was had with a slate of Irish music and dancing featured in Fountain Square over the holiday weekend. Wacky events like “Best Men’s Legs in a Kilt,” and the “Dog Beauty Contest” kept the crowds entertained. I know of at least two Long Grove friends who entered their furry family members in the competition, and one of them even won top-dog bragging rights as “King” for the day! And even though the summer festivals are winding down now, we still have plenty of fun fall events to anticipate in the months ahead. My personal favorite, the Historical Society Ghost Walk, will be back for a sixth straight year of spine-tingling and scary mischief on Friday, October 26th. Watch this blog and the website longgrovehistory.org for more details as the season unfolds.

All directions point to a good time during Irish Days!

All directions lead to a good time during Irish Days!