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.
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?
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.”
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 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 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.
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.
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.”
News reporter Mark Rivera stands next to Aaron Underwood (holding the bridge poster) after spending the morning in Long Grove on August 22nd.
Last week, Mark Rivera of ABC Channel 7 came to Long Grove to interview members of the Historical Society, merchants, and residents about our covered bridge. To view the story that aired on the evening news on Friday, August 24th, click on the picture link below:
All summer long, it seems that everyone I interact with is curious about the covered bridge. At a gathering this morning in Long Grove with Brad Schneider, even the Congressman asked me for an update on the topic. Here are where the repairs stand currently, according to the Village of Long Grove’s 8-23-18 newsletter:
Having Robert Parker Coffin Road closed to traffic at the bridge for two months now has caused inconvenience to residents and hardship to the downtown businesses. Everyone agrees that it is a priority to get the road opened again.
The most historic parts of the bridge, the metal truss and walkway and the foundations, are in the same condition as prior to the accident.
The damaged wooden cover needs to be either demolished and rebuilt or repaired. The Village engineers have recommended demolition and reconstruction, and the insurance company has proposed repairs to what is currently left. The Village Board will be weighing these options at their next meeting this coming Tuesday, August 28th.
If the cover is removed, the Village Board is also considering making other long-term needed repairs such as repairing or replacing the limestone abutments.
Because the bridge is a historic structure, the Village has recently become aware of potential federal funding that could help with the costs of restoration up to 80%. However, details and availability of this funding option have not yet been confirmed.
Stay tuned to see how the decisions unfold in the months to come.
Lining up the camera shot and getting miked for my interview with ABC Channel 7’s Mark Rivera inside the Covered Bridge Creamery.
Long Grove merchant and event organizer Meghan Potempa (on the left) and Angie Underwood are photo-bombed in a very cool way at Vintage Days!
Three years ago the merchants in historic downtown Long Grove hatched an idea for a new special event, christened “Vintage Days.” Each summer this weekend celebration of all things antique, vintage, upcycled and reclaimed has grown bigger and better, but it was a perfect fit for Long Grove right from the very start. Held on August 18 & 19 this year, Vintage Days is without a doubt my personal favorite festival. Apparently I’m not unique. Vintage Days has become special to many of us in the village and according to Matt Potempa, owner of Scout and Forge and one of the organizers, that’s because, “It absolutely captures the spirit of Long Grove.” I couldn’t agree more. Steve “the Greek” Besbeas, owner of the Chatterbox told me he loves Vintage Days because, “This festival is familiar and cozy in Long Grove. Like the difference you feel between wearing a sweater from JCPenney and one made by your yia-yia.”
One of the most pleasant things about Vintage Days is the crowd that it attracts. Many more locals make their way to this smaller fest as opposed to the big Chocolate, Strawberry and Apple festivals. And those who visit are generally interested in history and eager to learn about our Long Grove crossroads and the buildings that have been preserved. My husband Aaron and I spent Saturday afternoon narrating the vintage tractor and wagon rides throughout the downtown, telling stories and answering questions about our town’s history. It was really enjoyable getting to interact with the adults and kids who were visiting for the day to soak in the old-fashioned charm of the past that our village offers. I met quite a few new residents to Long Grove as well! Sunday featured a Penny Carnival for kids at the Historical Society Farmhouse, followed by an original show on the back porch stage highlighting some very talented local youths. (More on this in a future blog post!)
I will leave you with one more quote that perfectly sums up Vintage Days, this one from Historical Society board member Mike Dvorak, who said:
“Closing the weekend relaxing near Scout and Forge, eating ice creamand talking with neighbors, friends and family while music drifted through the air from the nearby stage made for a delightful close to a beautiful day and a magical weekend.”
Some of the many booths in the open air market at Vintage Days.
Lee Bassett was my favorite docent to partner with at the Ruth Barn. Here he is pictured with one of the pitchforks he loved to showcase.
Every community has those unique individuals who seem to pop up everywhere that help is needed; who simply have a heart for public service. Long Grove lost one of these treasures yesterday, with the passing of Lee Bassett. Lee was a compact dynamo, tireless in his dedication to our Village and generous with his time and passion. Lee was responsible for calling me up and asking me to serve on the Historical Society board way back in 1999. He was the kind of volunteer we all look up to as a role model of servant leadership.
One of his biggest contributions to Long Grove was serving as President of the Long Grove Park District. Lee donated countless hours as a local environmentalist and caretaker of his own heavily wooded property and various public open spaces throughout the village. I loved seeing Lee and his good friend Bob Borg out in my neighborhood every May, sporting backpacks and sprayers in their never-ending battle against invasive teasel. Lee also served for many years as our Long Grove Historical Society Vice-President, and as a docent for thousands of children who have participated in our Archer School and Ruth Barn field trip programs. Some of Lee’s favorite items to show and tell were the pitchforks in our collection, and how they each had a varied and specific use. His infectious enthusiasm would get the kids wound up, then I had the challenge of making them sit still and practice their penmanship in the schoolhouse! Lee loved to entertain as well as educate, and was a fellow castmate in our “Long Grove Lurid Legends” Halloween show a decade ago. He got such a kick out of playing a member of the real life “Newton Gang,” who robbed a train right here in Lake County. Both kids and adults delighted in his presence.
Lee will be remembered at a “Casual Gathering of the Friends of Lee” next Wednesday, July 25th, from 1:00-4:00 in the afternoon at Reed-Turner Woodland Nature Center. He will certainly be missed by all those that he has touched during his years here in Long Grove. He was a friend and an inspiration.
Patti Ecker and Mike Dvorak brought “Songs of the Prairie” to our farmhouse back porch for the July 6th performance.
Illinois was first designated a state in 1818, and a wide variety of events have been planned to mark this special 200th anniversary year. Here in Long Grove, the Historical Society is hosting a series of “First Fridays at the Farmhouse” performances to honor our state bicentennial as well as celebrate our local history. In June we were treated to “Spoon River Anthology,” a classic portrait of life and death in a turn-of-the-century Illinois town. Last week, singer and multi-instrumentalist Patti Ecker was joined by Long Grove musicians Reed Olsen and Mike Dvorak to entertain us on the farmhouse back porch with folk songs, sing-a-longs, traditional and popular selections that reflected chapters in our Illinois history.
Did I mention that all this great, outdoor, family-friendly entertainment is free? Please plan to join in the fun at the remaining two performances on the First Fridays of August and September starting at 6:00 pm. Friday August 3rd will feature “Birth of a State.” Come and find out what was happening in culture, politics, music, theatre, and everyday life during Illinois’ first summer of statehood. On Friday, September 7th, we will hear the tales of local Civil War veteran Chris Sauer told through stories, music and song in a show entitled, “Company’s Comin’.” Mark your calendar now and enjoy an evening in our historic downtown among Long Grove neighbors and history enthusiasts. You might learn a thing or two, also!
Click on the video clip below for a sample of the July 6th show:
Picture of the damage to the covered bridge on June 27th, 2018, taken soon after the accident. The wooden covering has continued to slowly collapse in the days since. The long term work needed to stabilize, open the road to traffic, and repair the damage is still being evaluated.
Shock, sadness and disbelief only begin to describe the emotions felt by those of us in the Long Grove community, Chicago area, and other parts of the country as the news of the severe damage to our covered bridge spreads, coming less than two weeks after the Historical Society was informed of the bridge’s listing on the National Register of Historic Places. For those of you who have not yet heard the details of the accident, the following report from WBBM CBS Chicago, which aired on Thursday, June 28th gives a good synopsis:
The day before the accident, the Village Board had approved plans to temporarily close the bridge on July 12th so that the community at large could celebrate the new federal listing. Plans were already underway by several community groups to participate in the party, and excitement among residents was high. Just look at these smiles below…
Former Trustee John Marshall (left) and downtown businessman Ryan Messner are shown installing the National Register marker on the bridge exactly one week before it was severely damaged.
The recent news of the National Register status had seen major media attention in the Chicago area, and it was picked up by the Associated Press last weekend. Many individuals had reached out to the Long Grove Historical Society following the National Register news with congratulations and elation over this story. The feeling in the community had been one of pride and happiness.
Which makes the turn of events this week so incredibly dramatic. At the scene of the accident just an hour after it occurred, I talked with a woman from California who was a history buff and had heard the news of the National Register listing. She flew across the country specifically to see our iconic bridge, only to arrive minutes after it was severely damaged. I met a resident from a neighboring community who works nearby and purposely goes out of his way to and from work to drive over the bridge because he loves it. He was devastated. Again, our inbox has been full of emails from bridge aficionados near and far, expressing sadness and anger at what has happened. I heard today from a gentleman who is the Vice President of the Theodore Burr Covered Bridge Society of Pennsylvania, with, “support for your efforts to see that the bridge is repaired.” He also stated that, “this is a bridge that I now have on my list to visit.”
As disheartening as the past few days have been, I know without a doubt that this community is resilient, and that we will rally and come together once again to save our bridge and restore it. Many, many passionate people have worked very hard to get the bridge on the National Register, and we will work just as hard to have that long-awaited celebration when the repairs are completed. I am looking forward to it! In parting, be heartened by the lovely image below, recently taken and sent to me by someone who grew up loving this bridge and loves it still today. Truly, a picture is worth a thousand words.
A beautiful picture of local boys searching for crayfish in Buffalo Creek under the bridge, taken and sent to me a few days before the tragic accident.
The iconic covered bridge in historic downtown Long Grove is a symbol of our village around the globe. As of today, it is officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
It’s Official! Our covered bridge in downtown Long Grove has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places! I’m so excited to be able to finally post this happy news! Please see the press release below for more details:
Long Grove’s Iconic Covered Bridge listed in National Register of Historic Places
The National Park Service has announced today that the Buffalo Creek Bridge, more commonly known as the Long Grove Covered Bridge, is being placed on the National Register of Historic Places. This is the first property in Long Grove to receive this prestigious designation.
Originally constructed in 1906 by the Joliet Bridge and Iron Company, the bridge is one of only two remaining of its kind in the greater Chicagoland area. Grass roots efforts for historic preservation and national recognition were rekindled early in 2017 when some local officials questioned the historic value of the one-lane bridge and favored a plan that would require removal of the current structure and increase truck and auto traffic through the pedestrian friendly downtown. In April of 2017, Landmarks Illinois, named the bridge to their annual “List of Endangered Historic Places.” A change.org petition urging local officials to save the historic bridge gathered over 4,900 signatures/testimonials and a fund-raising campaign has raised over $50,000 in monetary donations and pledges. Despite these efforts, local officials remain undecided on a long term course of action to restore or replace the bridge.
“For many years, the Long Grove Historical Society has been at the forefront of efforts to receive this designation, and we are thrilled to hear the news. Achieving National Register status confirms our belief in the bridge’s historical value as well as the sentimental value we know it holds for our community. This is a source of pride for all of Long Grove and we will continue to advocate for preservation of our beloved covered bridge,” noted Historical Society President Angie Underwood.
Ryan Messner, Vice-President of the Historic Downtown Long Grove Business Association added, “It’s our icon and our brand. For decades, Long Grove was a destination, and now the general feeling is that with the recent new business openings we’ve turned the corner and are solidly on our way back. It’d be foolish to destroy this treasure that has now been recognized with national historical status, and open up the quaint downtown to cut through traffic.”
An impromptu public celebration will be held in the coming weeks. Please check the Long Grove Historical Society website at longgrovehistory.org for updated details. More information about the bridge and the efforts to save it can be found online at SaveTheBridge.net
Members of the Long Grove Historical Society giving thumbs-up to the good news!