The Little Bridge That Could

R to L: Historic Downtown Long Grove President Ryan Messner, Andrew Heckenkamp from Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and Aaron Underwood, from the Long Grove Historical Society worked together today to advocate for placing the covered bridge on the National Register of Historic Places.

L to R: Historic Downtown Long Grove President Ryan Messner, Andrew Heckenkamp from Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and Aaron Underwood, from the Long Grove Historical Society worked together today to advocate for placing the covered bridge on the National Register of Historic Places.

It was a victory in Springfield today for Long Grove! The esteemed historians and archaeologists who make up the Illinois Historic Sites Advisory Council just dumped a big bucket of awesome sauce on our covered bridge by voting unanimously to recommend it to the National Register of Historic Places. Aaron Underwood, Past President of the Long Grove Historical Society, was instrumental in preparing the 35 page application, and spoke on the merits of this landmark before the board at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield. The bridge, which dates from 1906, qualified because of the steel “pony truss” construction unique to that time period, as well as the original and ornate pedestrian walkway, which is still intact. The nostalgic cover was added in 1972, and according to the experts at the meeting today, might be eligible in five years for historic status on this feature as well. The next step in the process is approval by the National Park Service, which administers the National Register.

It was a thrill and an honor to be in Springfield today to witness our beloved bridge advance one giant step further towards this respected status. The Village has tried several times over the years to achieve this recognition, most recently in 2014, while I was Village President. But just like the “little engine that could,” we kept on trying, and finally with enough persistence, diligence, research and hard work, it looks like we might just be able to achieve the goal this time. Our application now moves on to Washington and in about six to eight weeks we expect to hear back with the news of final placement on the national list. We think we can, we think we can do it! Continue to keep your fingers crossed.

Here’s the Daily Herald article that appeared online on June 30:

http://www.dailyherald.com/news/20170630/long-grove-covered-bridge-recommended-for-national-register-of-historic-places

Happy Flag Day!

Posing with Long Grove artist Marie Roth and the patriotic gift that she created for me.

Posing with Long Grove artist Marie Roth and the awesome patriotic gift that she created for me.

June 14th is flag day, but only one state–Pennsylvania–observes the occasion as a legal holiday. Another interesting bit of trivia that I recently ran across stated that Betsy Ross didn’t receive credit during her lifetime for sewing the first American flag in 1776. So to honor Old Glory and the talented women who create her (past and present), I am highlighting the story of a fantastic gift I recently received.

To thank me for my service as Village President, Long Grove artist and friend Marie Roth presented me with the beautiful painted wooden flag pictured above. Marie has been creating wooden renditions of the red, white and blue for many years now, and has quite a following. She was even recently featured in a national magazine! Marie’s flags are usually made out of reclaimed barn wood, and she is often on the lookout for old farm sites and other possible sources of wood with an interesting history. When she completes a flag Marie always includes a write-up about where the barn wood was found, and any stories she knows about the former owners.

What makes my flag so special is that it did not come from reclaimed barn wood, but instead, from wood that was once part of our Long Grove covered bridge! During my term of elected office the covered bridge has been hit and damaged many times (too many times!) by trucks and distracted drivers. During one of the many repairs, a pile of discarded and damaged boards was left by the side of the road and after several days Marie was alerted to the find. I have often coveted Marie’s flags, and even purchased a couple for gifts over the years. Now I am delighted to have a piece of Marie’s art and a piece of the covered bridge hanging in my home to remind me of the years spent representing our Village.

Speaking of the covered bridge, we are getting ever closer to having our local landmark on the National Register of Historic Places. I will be attending a meeting in Springfield later this month of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, who will be reviewing our application and (hopefully) making a recommendation to the National Park Service for the official designation. Keep your fingers crossed!

Ruth Barn to House Historic Pigs

The Long Grove Historical Society's 1840 Ruth Barn will be the new home for the iconic signs from the Country Smokehouse.

The Long Grove Historical Society’s 1840 Ruth Barn will be the new home for the iconic signs from the Country Smokehouse.

Longtime residents in the area remember fondly the combination smokehouse-restaurant-general store that was located on Rt. 83 and Gilmer Road in Long Grove, called the Country Smokehouse. Closed since 1999, the popular spot featured old-fashioned meats smoked in the historic smokehouse on the property (which is still standing), a deli, and a seven table restaurant serving up country breakfasts and hearty lunches daily. Owner of the business, Bernice Ann Tiffany, has passed away, and her daughter Jane recently contacted me to see if the Historical Society would like some donations of pictures, documents, and other antique items from the Smokehouse and Ferry Farms, the dairy farm and creamery that originally stood on the property. We were very excited to receive these items and happily welcomed the “pigs” back home today to live in our 1840 Historic Ruth Barn! We will be able to incorporate the signs into our field trip program for the local 3rd Graders when they visit to spend the day in our one-room schoolhouse and learn about local history and life in the pioneer and early farming days.

Ferry Farms was the home of Ferryhill Dairy in the 1930’s, and the Country Smokehouse was part of the original estate. It featured an original tin ceiling and shelving that dated back more than 50 years, chock-full of grocery items much like an old-time general store. Many of Bernice Tiffany’s regular customers shared their pig-collecting mania with her, resulting in hundreds of cute pink porkers on display in the restaurant along with the old-time memorabilia. We are grateful to Jane and Ken for saving many of these ties to the past, and for sharing them now with the Long Grove community.

Jane Tiffany-Hansen and Ken Hansen of Grayslake, who graciously donated items from the Smokehouse and Ferry Farms to our Historical Society.

Jane Tiffany-Hansen and Ken Hansen of Grayslake, who graciously donated items from the Smokehouse and Ferry Farms to our Historical Society.

Big Shoes to Fill

Incoming Long Grove Historical Society President Angie Underwood pokes fun at outgoing Historical Society President (and spouse) Aaron Underwood.

Incoming Long Grove Historical Society President Angie Underwood pokes fun at outgoing Historical Society President (and spouse) Aaron Underwood.

Each year at this time, the Long Grove Historical Society holds an annual meeting. It provides a nice opportunity to gather and celebrate the accomplishments of the past twelve months, thank the retiring officers, start brainstorming for the year ahead, and install the new executive board members. Last fall when I announced my retirement from the Village Board, and talk was floated that perhaps I would consider coming back to serve as President of the Historical Society again, the current President (my loving husband) quipped that, “well, I don’t know, she’d have some awfully big shoes to fill.”  Admittedly, he was joking, but the rest of the women in the room lost no time in setting him straight. So I could not resist the opportunity to prove to everyone at the annual meeting that yes, in fact I can fill his shoes, and in 4 inch heels no less!

Teasing aside, the Historical Society has enjoyed a very successful year under Aaron’s leadership with the October Ghostwalk event in the downtown getting even bigger and better, and it will be a hard act to follow. The partnership between the Historical Society, Downtown Merchants, and the Long Grove Community Church has now grown beyond the Ghostwalk to include collaborating on activities for Vintage Days and advocating for the preservation of our one-lane historic covered bridge. Look for all of these activities to continue into the remainder of 2017 and 2018, with some new ideas thrown in for good measure. I am very enthused to be working with our new and returning Historical Society board members to preserve, share, and celebrate our unique Long Grove history. We hope that you will join with us!

On the Endangered List

Speaking at a press conference in Springfield on April 6th with Ryan Messner.

Speaking at a press conference in Springfield on April 6th with Ryan Messner.

Every year, the nonprofit organization Landmarks Illinois creates a list of the Most Endangered Historic Places in Illinois. This is done to provide a focus for the organization’s statewide advocacy efforts. Over the last 22 years, a third of all properties and sites included on the annual Most Endangered list have been saved. This year the spotlight involved Long Grove, as our covered bridge was featured as one of the historic bridges on the list to be saved. Landmarks Illinois made the announcement of the list during a press conference in Springfield earlier this week, and a group of nine residents and merchants traveled to our state capital to participate. Ryan Messner, President of the Historic Downtown Long Grove Business Association, and I were both asked to speak at the press conference about our local efforts to save the bridge. We are grateful for the public awareness that being on this annual list generates, as well as the help provided by Landmarks Illinois going forward as we advocate together for national historic register status and restoration funds.

While in town, I met with our State Representative Nick Sauer in his Springfield office to discuss the covered bridge and other local issues. After the press conference our group of nine visited with State Senator Dan McConchie, who graciously gave us a personal tour of the senate floor and posed for pictures. I even had the opportunity to stand at the podium in the senate chamber, hold the gavel, and pretend to break a tie. Personally, I was dreaming of bringing down the gavel to accept an Illinois budget, but alas….not my jurisdiction.

With only two weeks to go in my term, this trip to Springfield will be remembered as one of my last and best experiences as Village President. We even caught a glimpse of Governor Rauner as he passed across the rotunda in front of us! At dinner the night before, I had the chance to talk with State Senator Melinda Bush about a bill that I am following, and she offered to introduce me, Village Clerk Amy Gayton, and Amy’s two daughters Alex and Nikki to the sponsor of the bill (who happened to be eating in the same restaurant) so that we could thank her. The female legislators took the opportunity to encourage the young girls to run for office themselves one day. Truly, it was inspiring.

Our Long Grove contingent surrounding State Senator Dan McConchie in the senate chamber (L to R): Jim Unzler, Aaron and Angie Underwood, Dana and Ryan Messner, Amy, Alex, Nikki and David Gayton.

Our Long Grove contingent surrounding State Senator Dan McConchie in the senate chamber (L to R): Jim Uszler, Aaron and Angie Underwood, Dana and Ryan Messner, Amy, Alex, Nikki and David Gayton.

3,500 voices of Long Grove supporters help to Save The Bridge

 

The voices of many in the Long Grove Community Church were heard at the February 14th Village Board meeting.

The passionate voices of many were heard in the Long Grove Community Church during the February 14th Village Board meeting. Church members were very gracious in hosting us and even provided Valentine’s Day themed treats and refreshments!

On Valentine’s Day, passion is a good thing. The love shown for our covered bridge by over 3500 petition signers and 150 attendees at the February 14th Village Board meeting proved strong enough to sway our six Trustees to move towards preserving our local landmark. After weeks of “Save the Bridge” efforts by our downtown merchants, residents, and the Long Grove Historical Society, the Village Board voted in an informal straw poll to discontinue spending any more time and money looking into demolishing the one-lane bridge and building a new two lane bridge to conform to federal standards.

This action came after the Village learned late last week that the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency has deemed our 1906 covered bridge eligible to be placed on the National Registry of Historic Places. This is great news for all of Long Grove and opens up the future possibility of grants and other funding sources for preservation. In addition, during public comment the largest property owner in our historic downtown, Gerald Forsythe, pledged to donate $25,000 to kick-start restoration efforts, and called on the community to create a private fund.

This week, I have had the pleasure of hearing the grateful voices of two prominent Long Grove residents who were active in efforts to preserve the bridge back in 1973, when the wooden covering was added. Both Barbara Reed Turner and Robert Parker Coffin made personal requests to me to “Save the Bridge,” and between passionate public expression, notice of historic status, and pledges of financial support, I think we may have just granted their wishes.

To watch a video of the 2/14/2017 Village Board meeting click here:

https://www.facebook.com/178143526074/videos/10154772743051075/

To read an article published by the Chicago Tribune on 2/15/2017 click here:

http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/lake-zurich/news/ct-bgc-long-grove-covered-bridge-tl-0223-20170215-story.html

To read an article published in the Daily Herald on 2/15/2017 click here:

http://www.dailyherald.com/article/20170214/news/170219375/

A picture speaks a thousand words. Long Grove merchants John Kopecky and Ryan Messner show their support at the meeting.

A picture speaks a thousand words. Long Grove merchants John Kopecky and Ryan Messner show their support at the meeting.

Peaceful Transition of Power

10th District Congressman Brad Schneider is one of many newly elected officials taking office this month.

10th District Congressman Brad Schneider is one of many newly elected officials taking office this month. This past summer I had the honor of meeting with Brad when he paid a visit to Long Grove to talk to me about our local concerns.

This week our country will be celebrating an inauguration, one in which I know many Americans have mixed emotions. I have no doubt that we will have a hard time escaping the hoopla in all aspects of the media and our personal social networks. What I am keeping forefront in my mind is the fact that we as citizens have traditionally placed a high value on the peaceful transition of power in our democracy. Many national, state, and county representatives have taken the oath this month and are already collaborating to make progress in various ways for the betterment of all. Take a deep breath—and let’s continue to work together with hopes for a brighter tomorrow.

In the words of a famous American, who is honored today with a national holiday in his name:

“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”

–Martin Luther King Jr.

A Bridge Too Far?

The iconic covered bridge in historic downtown Long Grove is a symbol of our village around the globe.

The iconic covered bridge in historic downtown Long Grove is a symbol of our village around the globe.

At the beginning of this year, The Daily Herald asked Lake County mayors: What are you most looking forward to your town accomplishing/doing/changing in 2017? My response highlighted several infrastructure improvements slated to begin this year, such as Old McHenry Road resurfacing and streetscaping in the downtown crossroads. I ended with, “And most significantly, I look forward to input and direction from our residents, through open houses and public hearing participation, on the course of action that our Village Board should take regarding the reconstruction of our iconic covered bridge.” Well, ask and you shall receive!

The Historic Downtown Long Grove Association (our local “chamber of commerce”), in cooperation with members of the Long Grove Community Church, Long Grove Montessori School, Long Grove Historical Society, and concerned area residents have launched an initiative to “Save the Bridge.” As of yesterday, a petition on change.org (click here to view) was started, and has gathered at the time of this writing over 1000 signatures. It has been overwhelming to see the beautiful memories and tributes flooding in from Long Grove residents, and those all over the country who grew up in Long Grove or remember visits to our town in years past. Our historic, one-lane covered bridge is even receiving love from such far-flung places as Norway, Japan, Ireland and Vatican City.

Why all the fuss? The covered bridge, which has iron truss supports dating back to 1906, is aging and needs replacement or a major rebuild. (click here for more history on the bridge) After years of study by prior and current Village Boards, the Trustees will be making a decision this year on whether to replace the bridge exactly as it currently looks, with a one-lane configuration, or to accept federal funding in exchange for building to federal standards, which require a two-lane traffic flow. It will be less costly to our village finances to accept the federal dollars, however the Village will still be responsible for 20% of the cost of this option. If the bridge is simply rebuilt to the current appearance it will be entirely on the Village’s dime. The Village Board has foreseen this expense coming for many years, and has earmarked funds in a capital budget for the bridge. (Click here for a recent newspaper article with more details)

The push and pull comes down to fiscal vs. tradition vs. safety. Many Trustees are supportive of the demolition and reconstruction to two-lane in exchange for saving money. Others want to keep the quaint appeal and favor the traffic calming effects of the one-lane in a heavy pedestrian area. I have stated previously that I have a soft spot for our charming covered bridge. I like it just the way it is and see no need to expand it to two lanes. I am firmly in agreement with those signing the online petitions–I love our covered bridge.

The Trustees have directed the village engineers to start the process for the federal funding option, which is a multi-year effort. Studies have been made, and are ongoing this Spring. In May, the Village is planning a public open house to further gather community input. A definite decision will be made after that time. Or maybe sooner if the public outcry is loud enough? Stay tuned to this blog for further updates.

January 11, 2017 UPDATE:  Click here for an article published today in The Daily Herald

January 12, 2017 UPDATE:  Click here for a piece from WBBM radio

January 13, 2017 UPDATE: Click here for an article published today by The Chicago Tribune

January 19, 2017 UPDATE: Click here for another article published by The Daily Herald

Happy Birthday, Long Grove!

LILG-60th-Birthday-Cake

(Note:  Earlier this year I wrote the following article for our Village newsletter, The Bridge. Following that publication, it was reprinted by our regional newspaper, The Daily Herald. Apologies to those of you who have read this before!)

On December 30th, our Village will be marking an anniversary as we celebrate 60 years since our incorporation in 1956. Prior to that time, this area had evolved from a rural commercial crossroads whose roots go back to about 1838. The idea to incorporate first surfaced when some residents in the early 50’s formed civic groups to represent zoning concerns, and soon the Lake County Clerk was petitioned to place a referendum question on the ballot. Former Village President Robert Parker Coffin (who served from 1959-1981) remembers that Long Grove was incorporated, “To protect it from being gobbled up by the surrounding communities which were in the early stage of increasingly vigorous expansion. We wanted to protect an environment and rural way of life that was fast disappearing around us. At the time (1956) Long Grove consisted mainly of dairy farms and residential estates. There were no subdivisions.”

The first Village Board of Trustees consisted of community members who were appointed informally to serve until the next election date in April. That election, a contested one, resulted in all of the previously appointed officials being duly elected. The trustees had been selected in an effort to represent every section of the new village, farmers and commuters. The first Village President was Guy Reed; the father of Barbara Turner and benefactor of what we enjoy today as Reed-Turner Woodland. In the beginning, the Village had no income for two years and everyone was a volunteer. The first full-time employee began on October 1, 1970. He was Superintendent Tony Berg, who carried out his duties from a basement office in the old creamery building. Our first Village Manager was hired soon afterwards. The early Village Board meetings were held in the Kildeer Countryside School cafeteria, which provided a small office for the Village Manager to use. Official village records were stored in the homes of elected officials.

Well, times have changed since those early days. We eventually acquired a Village Hall in 1977 after the old Drexler Tavern had been saved and moved to where it is now, adding a proper meeting room. Today Long Grove has one part time and four full time employees who work out of that same building, serving approx. 8,500 residents in 60 different subdivisions and neighborhoods. Our Village has grown to encompass roughly 18 square miles, which includes approx. 3,000 acres of protected, dedicated open space.

From our humble beginnings sixty years ago…Happy Birthday, Long Grove!

Of Mice and Men

Historical Society member Georgia Cawley teaches her grandson Miles how to work the antique mousetrap.

Historical Society member Georgia Cawley teaches her grandson Miles how to work the antique mousetrap.

Today I have invited a guest to write a post for my blog–none other than Aaron Underwood, President of the Long Grove Historical Society. Aaron writes a regular column on Long Grove history for our local lifestyle magazine, and this favorite artifact of mine was the subject of a recent article.  Wait, I mean the mousetrap pictured above is a favorite artifact–but I guess the author is a valuable treasure too! Anyway, enjoy the following story which recently appeared in Long Grove Living:

Of Mice and Men

One of the joys of living in Long Grove is being in such close proximity to a variety of living creatures. Unfortunately, all those majestic animals are far outnumbered by those little pesky ones, such as the humble field mouse. When seasons change, it seems our local mice prefer the sanctuary of our homes rather than the acres of open space where they belong. The earliest settlers of Long Grove fought the battle to rid their homes of mice just like we do. One of the favorite artifacts in our restored 1840’s farmhouse, is a wire mousetrap. We think it dates to the late 1800’s and likely was sold out of one of Long Grove’s general stores.

The trap is laid with bait in the center and lures mice through a levered flap that is angled such that the mouse can “nose through” to enter, but can’t raise the flap to exit. The trap works as good today as it ever did. If evolution ever decides to bless the mouse with opposable thumbs, the effectiveness of this trap will go astray. Come to think of it, mice with upgraded thumbs might doom all of us.

The classic wooden mouse “snap” trap that you find sold in Long Grove today was invented in 1898. Given the extremely fertile “mouse friendly” environment we live in, perhaps it’s not surprising that the classic “snap” trap was invented in Illinois, about 150 miles from Long Grove. It was noteworthy in that it didn’t rely on gravity, but rather was spring powered. Called the “Little Nipper”, the design remains virtually unchanged today.

Recently a brewery in Chicago received much publicity for the feral cats they use to patrol their grain stores. Our own Long Grove Village Hall occasionally does this as well. When I moved here almost twenty years ago, we employed a cat named Drexler, and he was succeeded by another feline affectionately known as Drexler II. Like many roles in our community, these stray cats are unpaid volunteers. The role of Village mouse catcher is currently unfilled and available for the stray looking for some community service. To apply, simply show up at Village Hall looking hungry, meow a lot, and get to work. Not to take issue with anyone who may have reserved the name Drexler III for any new recruit, but might we dub the new mouse antagonist “Little Nipper” instead?

— Aaron Underwood, President, Long Grove Historical Society