Proponents of saving and restoring the landmark one-lane covered bridge in Long Grove were buoyed Thursday by its inclusion on a list of the Most Endangered Historic Places in Illinois.
In an announcement this morning in Springfield, the circa 1906 metal span over Buffalo Creek was included in the thematic historic bridges category by Landmarks Illinois, a not-for-profit advocate that has compiled the list for the last 22 years.
"It adds value to the community," said Bonnie McDonald, president and CEO of Landmarks Illinois. "It still functions. Why not try to make it better?"
The Long Grove structure historically known as the Buffalo Creek Bridge is the only known surviving pin-connected truss bridge in Lake County and one of few in northern Illinois. A wood covering, patterned after one in New Hampshire, was installed for protection in 1972.
Supporters say the bridge -- as is -- represents small town charm and is an integral part of the village's image, history and collective memory.
"That bridge has played such an important role in so many people's lives," outgoing Long Grove Mayor Angie Underwood said.
The span was included on the list along with the Stone Arch Bridge in Maeystown, Monroe County, and the Bridge at Thirteenth Street in St. Francisville, Lawrence County.
Bridges are part of Illinois' transportation history and in smaller towns often are tied to the local identity, the listing states. Funding for bridge maintenance and repairs, however, has decreased at all levels of government and often results in money being targeted for demolition or replacement, according to Landmarks Illinois.
The organization each year asks for nominations for the endangered list, which are evaluated based on significance, level of threat and potential to alleviate the threat, McDonald said.
The Historic Long Grove Business Association nominated the covered bridge, which is at the western entry to downtown. The association is leading a campaign to save it.
"We feel it is the staple of the village's brand and logo," said Ryan Messner, association president.
As of Thursday, 3,505 people had signed an online petition directed to Underwood and the village board to restore the bridge in its current form.
"The sentiment I felt was overwhelming," Underwood said.
The Landmarks Illinois listing comes at a key time for the bridge.
The village has been studying options for two or three years, including tearing it down and building a two-lane replacement, Underwood said. But in February, the board informally decided to shelve that idea, although a replacement project would be eligible for 80 percent federal funding.
However, with three new village trustees, a vacancy expected and an appointment needed to fill Mayor-elect Bill Jacob's spot, the board makeup will be changing.
"I think it's a little unknown with the incoming board whether the (informal decision) will hold," Underwood said.
Village officials are scheduled to meet with state transportation and federal officials to determine what restrictions or parameters regarding bridge work come into play if the bridge is placed on the National Register of Historic Places, she said.