Living History: A Symbolic Bridge Endures

Long Grove’s iconic Covered Bridge is on its way to receiving federal landmark status.   Recently, Illinois Historic Sites Advisory Council members voted 14-0 in Springfield in favor of the bridge’s inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.  The next step for the bridge, which already made Illinois’ Most Endangered Places list earlier this year, will be for agency officials to prepare a nomination package for review by the National Park Service.

As the last active iron truss bridge in Lake County, the 100-year-old, single-lane Long Grove Covered Bridge has stood as the symbol of its crossroads town, one of the first in the country to pass a Historic Landmark Ordinance (in 1962) so that new construction need conform to its unique and charming style.  The Covered Bridge has transcended its historical role as a functional necessity and a tourist attraction into something of far greater significance – the Queen and Protector of this special place called Long Grove.

A gateway to the historic downtown, the Covered Bridge is where Long Grove’s quaintness begins and ends.  Not only does the single-lane bridge buffer the town from being a major thoroughfare, but there’s also something enchanting about waiting at a stop sign while the car opposite of you slowly passes over the bridge before your turn.

To paraphrase one resident: “I love how you need to stop, which suggests for you to relax, and prepare to step back in time to a less hectic world.  As you ease across the bridge, the sound and feel of the bricks and timbers under you add another reminder that you’re entering a special place.”

Yet, despite it being the face of Long Grove and a historic treasure, the Covered Bridge is still in danger of being replaced by a larger, two-lane bridge that would be eligible for federal funding.  As such, the “Save the Bridge” campaign was created. To date, thousands of people from around the world have signed the petition to help raise awareness and funds to preserve the Covered Bridge. Community-wide fundraisers such as Strawberry Fest have raised over $15,000 donated to the campaign.  To the Long Grove community and people who visit here from around the world, the Covered Bridge means much more than money; it helps make Long Grove the pedestrian-friendly walking town it’s known to be, where people feel safe buzzing in and out of shops and crossing streets with their kids. Opening up the main artery to Route 53 would change the whole atmosphere and landscape of downtown Long Grove, adding considerable traffic and safety concerns while detracting from the charming, historic story of this timeless town.

It’s not always about history that has passed; it’s about history in the making. In 50 years, we hope historians can look back and say that in saving the Covered Bridge, the people who love Long Grove held on to something even more significant – a quaint historic-themed island in a vast ocean of suburbia.

Ryan Messner is President of the Historic Downtown Long Grove Business Association. For more information about the efforts to save the Long Grove Covered Bridge, visit longgrove.org/save-the-bridge/