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Elkhart bridge gets layer of protection


SPRINGFIELD - Two central Illinois landmarks are among the 10 most endangered historic places of Illinois, according to a state preservation group.

Both the John Parke Gillett Memorial Arch - a pedestrian bridge that crosses County Road 10 on Elkhart Hill - and the Universalist Unitarian Church in Peoria are on the list published annually by the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois.

Gillette Ransom of Elkhart has led the fight to save the bridge.

"It's totally unnecessary to take down a structure that is still providing a service and is a visual point of interest," Ransom said.

Former Illinois First Lady Emma Gillett Oglesby commissioned the bridge in 1915 in memory of her brother.

Ransom is a great-great-granddaughter of Emma Oglesby's father, John Dean Gillett.

The bridge is considered endangered because Logan County Highway Commissioner Tom Hickman in January suggested demolishing it, believing falling concrete from the narrow bridge posed a danger for those passing under it, and was a liability for the county.

Not true, said Elkhart Village President Dayle Eldredge.

She said two engineers were hired to assess the bridge's safety, and both said it is fine structurally and only needs cosmetic improvements.

Ownership of the bridge has been unclear, though.

Hickman said in January that no one had stepped forward to make the repairs.

But Eldredge said Wednesday that the Elkhart Historical Society is in the process of filing the necessary paperwork to claim ownership.

Between that, the engineers' reports and significant public support, Ransom is confident the bridge will remain over the Elkhart-Mount Pulaski road.

In Chicago, three buildings of Jewelers' Row on Wabash Avenue made the list. They are within a landmark district and there is no threat to their 130-year-old facades, but a developer wants to demolish their back portions to build a 67-story residential tower.

Jim Peters, the preservation organization's director of planning, said the tower "would destroy the harmony of that stretch of Wabash, as well as the Michigan Avenue streetwall that faces Grant Park."

Three downstate buildings on the list - the Old Lincoln School in Rock Island, the Tuscan Lodge in Carbondale, and the Universalist Unitarian Church in Peoria - were built in the late 19th or early 20th centuries and are currently empty. They are threatened with possible demolition if they cannot be restored or moved.

Lincoln Hall, on the main quadrangle of the University of Illinois in Champaign, is still in use, but UI expansion plans call for alteration of its street facade and some interior demolition.

In Peoria, Cindy McLean, a board member of the Central Illinois Landmarks Foundation, also is optimistic that Peoria's Universalist Unitarian Church will be preserved.

There is, however, a tight deadline.

The church sold the building last year to the nearby Methodist Medical Center, which is interested in the land, not the building, McLean said.

Hospital officials, however, have agreed to donate the building - if it can be moved by Aug. 1, she said.

Someone has stepped forward to discuss the issue, but details have yet to be worked out between that person and the hospital and it is not a done deal, she said.

McLean hopes others will be interested as well.

"Having a building appear on a list like this gets people thinking," she said.

That, said LPCI chairman Joseph Antunovich, is precisely why the council produces the annual list.

By drawing attention to endangered, historic buildings, the council hopes to spark the support of individuals and groups who have the interest and/or funds to help save the structures, Antunovich said.

Of the 100 structures that have made the LPCI list since it was first published in 1995, only 15 have been demolished, he said.

The old Cook County Hospital, which has made the list three times, was added as a special 11th designee.

Said Antunovich: "What you see here is part of our history, part of our culture, and it's so important that we preserve these great buildings."

The Associated press contributed to this report.

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