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:


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


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


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!


(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

Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy!

Coming home from our workout today in the city, Waze navigation unexpectedly took us past Wrigley Field, where I snapped this shot of the crowds still rejoicing in the recent Cubs win!

Coming home from our workout today in the city, Waze navigation unexpectedly took us past Wrigley Field, where I snapped this shot of the crowds still rejoicing in the recent Cubs win!

Life in Long Grove has been happily dominated by a historic event this week–the clinching of the World Series by the Chicago Cubs! The collective joy this victory has spread among residents has made the past several days especially memorable. And while I know that not everyone in the Village is a Cubs fan, I do know that a significant number of Long Grovians were part of the estimated 5 million cheering fans lining the streets of Chicago yesterday for the victory parade. I had several appointments to keep so I chose to stick around town, but I did enjoy the uncharacteristic lack of traffic on the local roads as a result!

Where were you when you watched the Cubs break the 108 year “curse”? We were at the Village Tavern, at least for most of the game. The Chatterbox was another local gathering spot for cheering and knuckle-biting. However, most residents that I’ve talked to were glued to TVs at home, celebrating with family and friends and even in a few cases, post-game fireworks. This past week has certainly been one for the record books and a shared memory for all of us in Chicagoland. Cheers to letting happiness and joy dominate our lives, for a few days at least!

Zombies, Wolves, & One Seriously Scary Doll

Long Grove merchants and residents worked together to create this display of hand-carved jack-o-lanterns welcoming those brave enough to experience Red Riding Hood's haunted trail.

Long Grove merchants and residents worked together to create this display of hand carved jack-o-lanterns welcoming those brave enough to experience Red Riding Hood’s haunted trail.

Reading the title of this post might cause you to ask, “What do these three things have to do with Long Grove?” On the Historical Society’s October 28th Ghost Walk, not only could you find zombies, wolves, and an evil doll residing in our village, but the Ghost of Cuba Road materialized as well to scare the nearly 300 children and parents who participated. The Halloween fun kicked off Friday afternoon with Trick-or-Treating in the historic downtown shops. It was delightful to see so many cutely costumed kiddos as I was purchasing embellishments to add to my own witch getup for later that evening.

Serving as a tour guide, it was my job to safely navigate families of willing “victims” through our haunted historic district. The route took us past the line of scarecrows on Towner Green, some of which were not quite dead. The zombie dancers at In-Motion returned again this year to entertain, as did crazy Jake Eisler and his stick of dynamite. Good thing Jake was a die-hard Cubs fan, coming back from the grave to listen to the world series game and give us updates on the score! The Long Grove Community Church welcomed us in for a tour of their 1800’s cemetery, featuring the real-life tombstone of one past Long Grovian named Fredriche Krueger. Yes, “Freddy Krueger” was indeed lurking about, as well as many other spirits of the past. A trip back to the safety of the village involved crossing our haunted covered bridge, and a journey through Red Riding Hood’s spooky, wolf infested woods. The tour concluded this year with perhaps the most spine-tingling story of the evening, as Mike Dvorack used sound and light effects to tell the tale of “Arabella” the seemingly sweet yet secretly sinister doll. One father of a 5 year old confided in me that his daughter would probably now be sleeping in Mom & Dad’s bed for the next night or two! Having fun scaring the children….accomplished.

Here’s hoping that your Halloween is equally thrilling and chilling!

Attending the 2016 Ghost Walk are Long Grove residents (L to R): Doug and Jane Primack, Ellie, Jennifer and Collin Russell, Angie Underwood and Georgia Cawley.

Attending the 2016 Ghost Walk are Long Grove residents (L to R): Doug and Jane Primack, Ellie, Jennifer and Collin Russell, Angie Underwood and Georgia Cawley.

Mel’s Gas Info-Station

Long Grove resident Randy Towner, carrying on the family gas station at the crossroads, Mel's.

Randy Towner helps carry on his father’s business, Mel’s Marathon Mini Mart, at the crossroads in downtown Long Grove.

Every small town has a “hub” from which all real information flows. In my central Illinois hometown, circa 1970’s, it was the local diner, Kathy’s Kitchen. The grain elevator was another hotspot for local news, and I got to witness this firsthand during the summers when I worked for my Dad, who managed the elevator, and my cousin Rita, who managed the office help. Farmers would come in every day to “check the grain prices” but I suspected another reason they stayed and visited with each other so long was the desire to “check the latest chatter” going on around town.

In Long Grove, the undisputed central source of information is Mel’s, our crossroads gas station. Originally owned by long-time residents Mel and Dee Towner, the station is built on family property that dates back to the 1920’s and includes the open area now known as Towner Green. The station is currently managed by Mel’s sons Randy and Wendall, who run a mini mart in addition to the traditional gas pumps. Nothing much happens in Long Grove that Randy has not caught wind of almost immediately. When I truly want to find out what is going on in town, I go fill the car up, or better yet…send my husband to find out the latest report. Aaron loves to come home and inform the Village President what information hasn’t yet made it to Village Hall. And if I ever feel the need to verify the advance intelligence, it always checks out.

It helps that Mel’s also provides a tow truck for use in emergencies, so communications with the Lake County Sheriff officers are frequent. Case in point:  recently a local youth drove a car into a neighborhood pond, and one of my Trustees happened by the scene as the rescue was in process and phoned me. I felt like I had some breaking-news information to tell my husband as he walked in the door, only to have him fill me in with even more details gleaned as he was getting gas for the lawnmower.

The Towner family has long held a role in helping our community prosper. Mel Towner served 44 years as a volunteer fire fighter, and Dee Towner’s father donated the land to build our first fire department. The gas station today is a touchstone to our roots as a rural community. If a business in the historic downtown is closing, or a new store opening up, 9 times out of 10 I will hear the news from Randy first. I think it is great that we have a hometown merchant who provides a place to check in and take the pulse of the community; a place where you can experience both a friendly greeting and some local flavor. Mel’s is located at the heart of our crossroads and is in a variety of ways the center of what keeps many of us in Long Grove connected.

Our Daffodil Tradition

Now is the time to pick up some free bulbs at Village Hall, to plant for springtime beauty!

Now is the time to pick up some free bulbs at Village Hall. Plant them this fall for springtime beauty!

Long Grove has a long-standing tradition with the daffodil, and if you’ve lived in the Village for more than a year you’ve seen them. Every spring, the roadsides are lined with thousands of yellow blooms signaling the end of the winter season and bringing the promise of warmer days ahead. Each year the Village of Long Grove offers free daffodil bulbs to our residents for planting in the public right-of-way. And I’m happy to announce that the bulbs have now arrived! They can be picked up now while the supply lasts, Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For a little background on this tradition, we reached out to Long Grove Park District Volunteers Jane and Ken Wittig to do some research and I would like to thank them for providing the following history:

Where and when did the Long Grove daffodil tradition start? It has been going on for a long time–this year will mark what may be the 45th anniversary of the daffodil planting practice. No one knows exactly how many bulbs have been provided by the Village over the years. The Village Board allocates a fixed dollar amount to the project annually, and buys as many bulbs as possible with the budgeted funds. Last fall we provided 4,200 bulbs for residents to plant. If that number was consistent over 45 years, about 190,000 daffodils would have been available to beautify Long Grove. 

The daffodil idea came from a group of civic minded women who were the founders of the Long Grove-Kildeer Garden Club in the early 1970’s. The moving force at the front of the idea was Betty Coffin, whose husband, long time Village President and Trustee Robert Parker Coffin, convinced the Village to agree. The project launched as a community effort, with volunteers from the Garden Club, Park District, and Scout troops planting the bulbs. Among the enthusiastic participants were Timmie and John Clemetsen, Lee Bassett, and Barbara Turner. Funding came from the Village and from builders who donated bulbs for planting along the right of way in areas where they were developing homes. The idea was popular, has continued through economic ups and downs, and is still going strong today. We now depend on individual homeowners to carry on the tradition.

Stop by Village Hall now and pick up your bulbs for planting this fall. You will be thankful (and so will your neighbors) this coming April!