Our guest contributor this week is Pat Barch, the Hoffman Estates Historian. This column originally appeared in the December 2016 issue of the Hoffman Estates Citizen, the village’s newsletter. The column appears here, courtesy of the Village of Hoffman Estates.
Finally, after so many years of trying to find out who built the Lion Bridge, I now know who engineered that beautiful little bridge. His name was Harry L. Emerson, an engineer who worked for Cook County back at the turn of the century. Not only did he build our Lion Bridge but he built the first reinforced concrete arch bridges in Cook County. Seven of them were across the Des Plaines River.
According to his biography in the History of Cook County dated 1909, his two most notable bridges were built in Wheeling and Lemont, Illinois. They also had animals on them and the Lemont, or Stevens St. Bridge, built in 1906, was so beautiful that it was a destination point for visitors to the Chicago area. The bridge in Wheeling, or the Dundee Rd. Bridge, built in 1905, was identical to our Lion Bridge only longer in its span across the Des Plaines River. The Stevens St. Bridge was torn down and the Dundee Rd. Bridge was widened and the Lions and decorative outlining of the bridge were destroyed in the process. All that’s left are the photos found on line and at the Wheeling Historical Society.
I have to thank Randy Schallau who found the name of engineer Harry L.Emerson while doing research into the mystery of who built the bridge. Randy had lived in Hanover Park at one time and had read about our difficulty in finding any information about the bridge. Research is a hobby of his as he’s retired from his work in construction and living in the north woods of Wisconsin. He knew that bids for work in the construction of buildings, roads or bridges could be found in the Engineering News that dated back to the late 1800s. He located me and e-mailed what he had found. That was a great day. After all the years of finding nothing in newspapers or government records, we finally found who had built the bridge. The request for bids for the Lion Bridge and the Stevens St. Bridge in Lemont were in the same issue of Engineering News from 1906.
As far as we know, none of Mr. Emerson’s original bridges remain except for the Lion Bridge located at the southeast corner of Route 59 and Golf Rd. It is already recognized as a historic bridge but I’m now in the difficult process of applying for National Register status. More research is required and with a bridge that’s 110 years old, it’s a time consuming process with little to be found.
Old maps from 1890 show that there was a cheese factory and the Bode Hotel located at the northwest corner of Bode Rd and Sutton Rd (now Route 59). Golf Rd did not exist in 1906 when the Lion Bridge was built. It was an important bridge because dairy farmers would take Sutton Rd across Poplar Creek on the Lion Bridge to Bode Rd stopping at the cheese factory or on to Elgin. Known as the Elgin to Chicago Rd, Bode Rd. is one of the oldest roads in this area. Farmers would take Bode Rd to Elgin with wagons loaded with milk bound for the dairies in Elgin.
Please join us on Saturday, Dec. 3 at 10 am at the Lion Bridge to celebrate its 110th birthday. A small parking area is located at the north east corner or Bode Rd and Route 59 and we’ll tailgate with coffee and donuts, walk down to the bridge and sing happy birthday to our much loved bridge.
Pat Barch, Hoffman Estates Village Historian