KOUTS | More than a decade after progress doomed a 1920s Kankakee River bridge in Lake County, the Kankakee Valley Historical Society will give the bridge new life.
"It's a long and ugly story," said John Hodson, president and founder of the Kankakee Valley Historical Society.
The story begins about 15 years ago, said Hodson, when he began looking for a bridge that was built around the same time as Collier Lodge, an early 1900s hunting club at 1101 S. Baum's Bridge Road. The story will end in July when the replacement span arrives at the society's Collier Lodge site.
The bridge will be part of the Kankakee Valley Historical Society's dream to restore the Collier Lodge site to how members of the hunting club, including President Theodore Roosevelt and Gen. Lew Wallace, would have found it.
"People will sit in that building and they'll get to look out and walk over the bridge, just the way these guys did," said Mary Hodson, secretary of the historical society.
The one-lane, wooden bridge earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places, but it never stopped carrying Clay Street cars across the Kankakee. The replacement bridge currently spans the river in Grand Kankakee Marsh County Park near Ridge Line Road. However, traffic flow in the area became too much for the one-lane bridge to handle.
The replacement has been slated for removal by the Indiana Department of Transportation since the early 2000s as part of a project to beef up another bridge that spans the Kankakee at the Indiana/Illinois state line.
"As soon as they wanted to tear it down, it became an issue," John Hodson said.
According to Hodson, both preservation and ecological groups fought against the bridge's removal. The preservation groups do not want to lose the historic bridge; the ecological groups do not want the marsh surrounding the bridge disturbed.
"There would be a push to get it replaced, then enough opposition to stop it," John Hodson said.
In 2002, the historical society stepped in and volunteered to take the bridge. After 12 years of government meetings and interstate negotiations, the Grand Kankakee Marsh County Park bridge has finally been cleared to move to Baum's Bridge. Mary Hodson said she'll be relieved when the bridge arrives.
"It's kind of that deep breath of, 'Aah, it's safe.'"