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Old Elkhart bridge gains new support

BY JAMES WASHBURN
THE COURIER

ELKHART - Plans that could have resulted in the demolition an historic pedestrian bridge constructed in 1915 may be scrapped due to recent efforts spearheaded by a direct descendant of the Gillette family that owned adjacent properties when the bridge was constructed.

The Elkhart Historical Society, village trustees and "hundreds" of central Illinois residents who have signed circulating petitions have united in recent weeks to attempt to save the 90-year-old arching concrete structure, Elkhart Village President Dayle Eldredge said Wednesday.

The old bridge - constructed for then-Gov. Richard Oglesby - is a pedestrian bridge that links the Elkhart Cemetery on its south side to property on the north that was willed to John Dean Gillette's daughter, who was married to Oglesby, said Gillette Ransom of Elkhart.

Ransom - the great, great granddaughter of John Dean Gillette has spearheaded the movement to save the concrete relic, the John Parke Gillette Memorial Bridge, which spans the Mount Pulaski-Elkhart blacktop.

The proposed demolition arose in January when Logan County board member Terry Werth, who chairs the county's road and bridge committee, announced to board members that Logan County highway commissioner Tom Hickman had inquired about removing the bridge.

Hickman said the bridge's deteriorating condition is in dire need or repair and falling concrete poses a threat to motorists passing beneath it.

Hickman told the county board in January that he is planning a pavement overlay for the Pulaski-Elkhart blacktop this summer, and suggested that, if the bridge was to be removed, now would be the most convenient and efficient time to have it demolished.

At the time, Hickman said the actual ownership of the bridge was undetermined and no one was claiming responsibility for the repairs that it needed.

"Until we saw that in the paper, we were not aware that (Hickman) was on a fast-track to demolish it," Eldredge said.

"We have applied (for the bridge) to be considered for one of the 10 most endangered historical sites (in Illinois)," Ransom said today. "There are a great number of people and agencies that are interested in saving the bridge and preserving it."

Ransom said she expects to hear in early March whether the Landmark Preservation Council of Illinois will recognize the bridge as an endangered site.

Ransom said that each year the council picks 10 of the most endangered sites in the state and the Elkhart application is one of about 30 applications received by the council this year.

"If we are named to that list it will help with any financing" needed for repairs, Eldredge said.

Ransom said people wanting to preserve the bridge should send letters in support of its preservation the Logan County Highway Department, 529 S. McLean St., and to the Elkhart Historical Society, P.O. Box 255, Elkhart, Ill. 62634.

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Copyright 2001, The Lincoln Courier