This unique bridge is a small concrete arch and for a bridge of its size is richly decorated with identical lion sculptures cast into each end of the spandrel walls. The bridge is designed so that the exterior of the parapets (railings) are flush with the spandrel walls creating a solid concrete wall including both parapet and spandrel wall. The outer edge of this combined wall has an outline consisting of three raised cylindrical lines, with the middle line being slightly smaller in thickness.
Nothing about the location of the bridge stands out as reason for the decorative design, which is more like a bridge that would be found in a large city park rather than the relatively open and undeveloped location in which this bridge is located. For many years the designer of the bridge was unknown. However, Pat Barch, the Hoffman Estates Village Historian did some research and revealed that Harry L. Emerson was the designer of the bridge. Further research of other works by Emerson suggest that the unique architectural details were simply something that Emerson apparantly prefered in his bridges. Compare this bridge to the photos of the original and unaltered Dundee Road Bridge. Additionally, the long-gone Stephen Street Bridge shown below was also a work of Emerson's and shows a similar concept of animal sculptures in the spandrel walls.
Constructed in 1906, the bridge is a very early surviving example of a reinforced concrete bridge. A late 1980s draft of an Illinois Historic Bridge Inventory noted that this bridge was the earliest example of its type identified in the state. In 1906, engineers were just beginning to explore the possibilities of reinforced concrete for use in bridge construction, both large and small. Reinforced concrete bridges, called "concrete-steel" bridges at that time were frequent topics of engineering periodicals of the early 20th Century. Many engineers developed different reinforcing methods and quickly patented them to protect their ideas from competing engineers. One of the types of reinforcing was to use solid steel beams, either rolled or built-up, inside the bridge, named Marsh reinforcing after its designer. Another engineer, Daniel Luten, championed his own patented arch bridges that used reinforcing rods. It is not known if either of these engineers were associated with this bridge or if their reinforcing ideas might be contained within this bridge. Sometimes old bridges are deteriorating to the point where the arch reinforcement is visible, but fortunately for this bridge it has not deteriorated to that point, however it does make it difficult to see what the reinforcing method for the arch is. However some sections of the railing have spalled revealing reinforcing rods. This may suggest that the entire bridge uses rods for reinforcing and is not a Marsh style arch. An interesting note regarding the visible reinforcing is that they appear to be very simple rods, with no ribs or twisted squares as seen in some other reinforcing designs.
This bridge has excellent historic integrity since it does not appear to have any noteworthy alterations. This fact, combined with the unique aesthetic details on this bridge and the fact that it is a very early surviving reinforced concrete bridge make it a very important historic bridge, and (according to the Illinois Historic Bridge Survey), eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
The bridge's physical condition appears to be relatively good. Spalling is very minor and highly isolated, and no efflorescence was noted. It does not appear that the bridge suffers from any of the horrible alkali-silica reactions (ASR) that destroys so many old concrete bridges. The fact that the bridge was bypassed by the late 1970s before highly damaging deicing salt was used in the massive qualities seen on today's roads probably has helped keep the bridge in good condition. Because the bridge does not display condemning deterioration found in many old concrete bridges, this bridge is feasible to preserve and should be given a high level of preservation priority.
A non-motorized trail system leads up to and passes by the bridge between the historic bridge and the modern highway bridge located a short distance west of the historic bridge. While the trail does not cross the historic bridge, the historic bridge is accessible from the trail. Pat Barch, the Hoffman Estates Village Historian did some research at the Cook County Highway Department and did find some limited information about the bridge. In 2016, additional information by Pat Barch revealed the engineer of the bridge. Pat initially reported the following history:
"We know that on May 31, 1906, Hanover Township requested help from Cook County for construction costs. According to the official proceedings of the Cook County Board of Commissioners, they shared the $3,000 construction bill. The completed concrete arch bridge was turned over to Hanover Township on Nov. 26, 1906. It must have been a good summer for construction because it was completed in only six months. Unfortunately, it doesn't say who was given the contract or to whom the money was paid."
Given the findings of this research, it would appear that original plans do not survive for this bridge. Consideration should be given to having this bridge recorded using a point cloud laser scanner, which generates not only a 3D model of the bridge, but can be used to generate detailed measured 2D plan-style drawings of the bridge. This type of recording would be of value since if down the road the lion sculptures deteriorate, the models and drawings might help in restoring them.
The bridge appears to be appreciated by the local community. A 100 year anniversary celebration was held on the bridge in 2006. Again, Pat Barch relates this modern chapter in the bridge's history:
"On a chilly day in December 2006, a group of us gathered to celebrate the 100th birthday of the Lion Bridge. We drank hot chocolate and ate blueberry muffins. Believe it or not, we even sang, "Happy Birthday." There were balloons and a happy birthday sign posted at the bridge. Drivers on Route 59 honked their horns and waved as they passed by."
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Chicago / Cook County Bridge News
October 2015 - Patrick T. McBriarty, author of Chicago's River Bridges, informs HistoricBridges.org that in recognition for the "outstanding and original reference work that will support future scholarship in the history of technology", the book was awarded the biennial Eugene S. Ferguson Prize by the Society for the History of Technology (SHOT) at the SHOT Annual Meeting's awards banquet. See press release. This is the third award for this book. Order Now Direct From The Publisher! or order on Amazon.
September 2015 - Fall Bridge Lift Season is Underway. View Schedule.
October 2014 - A visit to Chicago revealed that the Van Buren Street Pedestrian Bridge was not demolished, but instead extensively rehabbed. The railings are new, but replicate the original design. The concrete encasement was removed and not replaced, and instead the exposed riveted steel beams have been painted. The riveted beams look quite nice, and given the condition of the bridge prior to the project this seems like a good outcome. In other news, the rehabilitation and repainting of the La Salle Street Bridge is ongoing, and the project to extend the Chicago Riverwalk under additional bridges on the Main Branch is continuing.
September 2014 - Chicago's dubious distinction of offering numerous boat tours that pass under the bridges but offer narration only of the buildings has ended with the start of a Wendella tour that focuses on bridges! Information is here.
July 29, 2013 - A project study has been initiated for the reconstruction of historic North Lake Shore Drive. This project puts a large number of historic bridges at risk for demolition and replacement. However, it could also be an opportunity to rehabilitate the bridges. Visit the project website.
April 30, 2013 - Illinois Landmarks has included Chicago's Bascule Bridges as one of their Top 10 Most Endangered Historic Places. View The Official Page.
General Chicago / Cook County Bridge Resources
Chicago's Bridges - By Nathan Holth, author of HistoricBridges.org, this book provides a discussion of the history of Chicago's movable bridges, and includes a virtual tour discussing all movable bridges remaining in Chicago today. Despite this broad coverage, the book is presented in a compact format that is easy to take with you and carry around for reference on a visit to Chicago. The book includes dozens of full color photos. Only $9.95 U.S! ($11.95 Canadian). Order Now Direct From The Publisher! or order on Amazon.
Chicago River Bridges - By Patrick T. McBriarty, this is a great companion to Holth's book shown above. This much larger book offers an extremely in-depth exploration of Chicago's movable highway bridges, including many crossings that have not existed for many years. Order Now Direct From The Publisher! or order on Amazon.
Chicago Loop Bridges - Chicago Loop Bridges is another website on the Internet that is a great companion to the HistoricBridges.org coverage of the 18 movable bridges within the Chicago Loop. This website includes additional information such as connections to popular culture, overview discussions and essays about Chicago's movable bridges, additional videos, and current news and events relating to the bridges.
Additional Online Articles and Resources - This page is a large gathering of interesting articles and resources that HistoricBridges.org has uncovered during research, but which were not specific to a particular bridge listing.
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