The possibility of national landmark status for Long Grove's historic one-lane bridge means federal law now provides it with protection if officials decide to replace the span.
Citing the covered bridge's poor condition, Long Grove officials have been exploring options to renovate or replace the bridge that dates back to the 1900s with a one- or two-lane span at the western entry to downtown.
Discussions began about three years ago, but now complications have arisen because the old bridge is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. The eligibility was determined last month by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.
Under the National Historic Preservation Act, the bridge now has added protections. State officials said in a letter to Long Grove that "all reasonable measures must be taken to avoid demolition of this bridge," because of the national landmark possibility.
"Rehabilitation of the existing structure must be considered," said Brad Koldehoff, chief archaeologist of the Illinois Department of Transportation's cultural resources unit. "If rehabilitation is not feasible, an attempt must be made to avoid the structure by construction of the replacement bridge on a new alignment."
Long Grove village board members last month informally agreed to stop investigating a two-lane replacement bridge. Instead, they plan to shift efforts into one-lane options, including saving the current Robert Parker Coffin Road span over Buffalo Creek.
By most accounts, the steel-pin-connected pony truss bridge was built in 1906 and received its cover in 1973. Supporters have cited it as a key part of downtown Long Grove's identity, to the point it's part of the official village logo. Detractors contend that a new, larger span would be safer and provide an updated appearance for the village.
Senior engineer Daniel Brinkman of Vernon Hills-based Gewalt Hamilton Associates Inc. said it originally was believed federal financial assistance would be available only if the village tore down the bridge and built a new two-lane span.
But he hopes to learn this month whether federal money might be available for a renovation now that the bridge is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.
"Right now, we have a lot more questions, unfortunately, than we have answers," said Brinkman.
An updated estimate shows it could cost about $850,000 to renovate the current bridge.
Work would include removal of the entire structure, salvaging steel, replacing abutments and building a new cover.
Long Grove Historical Society President Aaron Underwood said that in the 1960s and early '70s, village leaders could not get the bridge declared historic. Some wanted to tear it down, but leaders decided to place a cover on it -- a move that likely led to its beloved status today.
"We have an opportunity to get this thing on the national historic register," said Underwood, whose wife, Angie, is the outgoing Long Grove village president. "That is huge. That is a gift. That is a gift that we're going to give to people who live here in 20 years, in 40 years."