Two years after truck took it out, Long Grove's covered bridge back in action
It was almost like a scene from a Hallmark Channel movie that typically features friendly people in a small city as Long Grove Village President Bill Jacob on Friday led an informal celebration of the long-awaited reopening of the town's 114-year-old covered bridge.
With a Long Grove Fire Protection District truck blocking the east side of Robert Parker Coffin Road, about 50 residents, business owners and others followed Jacob over the reopened span. John Kopecky, who owns Country House of Long Grove, then drove a tractor that pulled a hay wagon with children and parents over the bridge.
Village officials six years ago began trying to figure out what to do with the deteriorating one-lane structure over Buffalo Creek. Then, soon after it landed on the National Register of Historic Places, a box truck smashed into it and caused massive damage.
Instead of replacing it, the village committed to rehabilitating the signature downtown bridge.
"This is pretty amazing," Jacob said. "Who would have thought that two years ago a box truck would take this cover off and that we would be standing here today with a fully renovated bridge? It is amazing that happened. And it's just on top of all that great new roadwork and everything we did in the downtown.
"And this wouldn't have been possible without just a freak accident that occurred with the box truck. And then we turned something terrible into something really good."
Two weeks after it was named a national landmark, the covered bridge was damaged when a too tall, overweight box truck drove through on June 27, 2018. It was closed to vehicular and pedestrian traffic for more than two months.
In March, the bridge was removed and placed on a flatbed truck to accommodate concrete abutment replacement and a painting of the span. Crews lowered the bridge back into place over Buffalo Creek in June, then finished the job with a new timber cover supported by a steel skeleton.
Constructed in 1906 by the Joliet Bridge and Iron Co., the span is a rare surviving example of a pin-connected pony truss bridge built for an urban setting, according to documents submitted for the national landmark process.
The cover was added in 1972 to help preserve the bridge and limit traffic from trucks and other heavy vehicles.
Village Engineer Geoff Perry, who was part of the crowd for Friday's reopening, called it the culmination of a once-in-a-lifetime career opportunity.
"It's kind of a surreal moment," Perry said.
Long Grove Historical Society member Aaron Underwood and Ryan Messner, who owns a downtown Long Grove insurance business, were part of a team that worked to gain national landmark status for the bridge. Underwood brought a bottle of champagne to toast the reopening.
"It's like a mixture of relief and content and joy," Underwood said. "It's just fun to see traffic moving across it again."
Last month, the historical society gave $53,497 for the bridge work. The money came from a private fundraising campaign that involved lemonade stands, donation jars, large contributions and other means.
Officials said the village's out-of-pocket cost should be $589,000. A $250,000 state grant, about $195,000 from an insurance claim related to the crash and the historical society donation will be pooled to cover the rest of the cost.