Landing on the National Register of Historic Places won't protect Long Grove's iconic covered bridge from ever being demolished, but its supporters say the designation by a federal agency affirms their preservation efforts and will provide some benefits.
Dating to the early 1900s, the one-lane bridge on Robert Parker Coffin Road received the designation Friday from the National Park Service. The official word came to the village's historical society about a year after it was recommended by the Illinois Historic Sites Advisory Council.
Long Grove Historical Society member Aaron Underwood was among those who celebrated the news. He's been part of a team that's worked to preserve the Buffalo Creek span leading to downtown Long Grove.
"From my point of view, getting it listed sort of solves that issue of is it worth preserving or not," Underwood said. "Is it truly historic? It's not just our word as the local historical society; it's now been vetted by the state and the park service." State officials said in a letter to Long Grove that "all reasonable measures must be taken to avoid demolition of this bridge" upon its becoming a national landmark. However, Underwood noted Long Grove village government owns the bridge and would be allowed to demolish it if deemed necessary.
Citing the covered bridge's poor condition, Long Grove officials in 2014 began exploring options to renovate or replace it with a one- or two-lane span at the western entry to downtown.
The bridge was constructed in 1906 by the Joliet Bridge and Iron Co. and is a rare surviving example of a pin-connected pony truss bridge built for an urban setting, according to documents submitted to the state. The "nostalgic covering" was added in 1972 to help preserve the bridge and limit traffic from trucks and other heavy vehicles.
Underwood and Ryan Messner, vice president of the Downtown Long Grove Business Association's executive committee, submitted 35 pages of documents in advance of a hearing that led the Illinois Historic Sites Advisory Council to recommended federal landmark status.
Messner said Monday the goal was "to preserve the bridge for the next 100 years."
"I think it's here to stay," he added.
Long Grove officials expect the bridge to be good for an estimated seven to 10 years due to roughly $95,000 in repairs made this year, including a new cover and abutment and drainage work. Cost estimates for a long-term fix have varied, with the most recent being about $850,000.
Village President Bill Jacob said he expects the National Register of Historic Places designation to be positive for Long Grove.
"It could be a good thing if it brings tourism," Jacob said. "It could bring some funding and so forth with it, maybe grants and other opportunities. So, it could be good for the downtown."
Proponents have cited the bridge as a key part of downtown Long Grove's identity, to the point it's incorporated into the village logo. However, skeptics have contended that a new, larger span would be safer and provide an updated appearance for the village.