Bridges of Old Lake Bluff

Imagine arriving at a ravine back when riding horses and driving teams were the main modes of travel in Lake Bluff. … Whoa, Nelly! … With no way for horses to traverse the slope, you’d have to head west for a work-around.

Crossing by foot wasn’t a cinch, either, but you could feasibly make your way down, wade through the stream, and head up the other side with soggy feet and a few thistles in your britches. Or you could balance on a fallen tree that spanned one edge to another.

It’s not known when the first bridge – fallen tree or man-made – was used to cross local waterways, but the Museum has many photos of ravine-spanning road- and footbridges dating to the late 1800s.

We’re thinking about bridges because the Village is presently replacing the Glen Avenue footbridge in Ravine Park, and it is planning a partial replacement in 2026 of the Green Bay Road bridge, which spans the Union Pacific railroad tracks near the Bath & Tennis neighborhood.

For now, let’s look at the footbridges of yore.

The photo at the top of this email is from 1892. It shows Lake Bluff resident Sadie Honeywell on a ravine bridge. Don’t you love the late Victorian-age bustle on her long dark skirt? She was probably wearing tight-fitting leather shoes with a buckle, per the style back then. We hope there was a cool breeze!

Glen Avenue Footbridge

Caroline Goetz with Elmer and Dorothy Vliet at the grand opening ceremony of the Gurney Avenue footbridge in November 1986.

Lake Bluff Camp Meeting Association founders constructed wooden bridges over ravines so summer guests could walk back and forth from the tabernacle and camp meeting grounds to hotels, cottages, beach, and other amenities.

The Village first installed a steel and wooden footbridge at Glen Avenue in 1915. Over the years many people enjoyed the serenity of the ravine from that bridge. One preacher included it in a sermon, saying:

“… I want to pay tribute to a little bridge that has no claim to fame, but that has my real affection. It is the little footbridge on Glen Avenue in Lake Bluff. It spans the ravine with a sparkling stream at the bottom of the ravine, and slender, towering trees lining the sides. It is so quiet and lovely and peaceful that one can almost feel the presence of God. Many times when I have been tense and troubled in spirit, I have gone to that quiet little spot, and have gone home with new confidence.”

Over time, the Glen Avenue bridge experienced wear and tear. The Village conducted a significant renovation in 1980, giving the bridge another 40-plus years. By 2017 leaders started evaluating next steps, and in 2022 an anonymous donation of $400,000 was made. Today, work is underway for a total replacement.

At the present moment, there’s nothing but air there since the bridge was recently dismantled. Any day now, crews will install a brand new footbridge that will be about two feet wider than the old one, and made of steel with wooden decking.

Gurney Avenue Footbridge

Drawing of the Glen Avenue footbridge in 1962.

The bridge at Gurney Avenue has an interesting backstory that also involves community support. Like the Glen Avenue footbridge, the original structure dated to the Camp Meeting era. The Village replaced it in 1912, and that new expanse survived nearly 70 years. But by 1981 the Gurney footbridge was in such a state of disrepair that the administration closed it, and demolished it three years later.

The Gurney footbridge was very much missed. Many locals stepped forward to help fund a replacement, including Lake Bluff Open Lands Association under the leadership of founder Caroline Goetz, who organized a fund-raising drive that brought in $6,000 from LBOLA and an additional $4,000 from others. Lake Bluff historian Elmer Vliet and his wife, Dorothy, wrote a substantial check for $16,000. Recognize the names of other contributors? We do! Crennen, Callahan, Gustavson, Parson, Nickel, Holstein, Francoeur, Myles, Hall, Ritter, Gilby, Crosby, and Clark.

The 1986 Gurney Avenue footbridge replacement was such a cause célèbre that there was a
dedication ceremony when the new structure opened on Nov. 1, 1986 – led by a bagpiper!

Here are some photos from the ceremony — can’t you just feel the excitement as well as the crisp fall air … and the itchiness of woolen skirts (and a kilt) on bare or stockinged legs?