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Celebrating the Red Covered Bridge

PRINCETON — Bureau County residents are invited to celebrate the history of Princeton’s Red Covered Bridge by joining the Bureau County Historical Society (BCHS) for a 150th anniversary party and picnic.

On Thursday, BCHS Director Pam Lange said the celebration begins at 11:30 a.m. Sept. 2, Labor Day, with a short program on the history of the Red Covered Bridge. Princeton Mayor Keith Cain, Kathy O’Malley and Stephen Gunning will be the speakers for the program. Gunning’s father, the late Judge Hobart Gunning, was the speaker at the 100th anniversary celebration of the Red Covered Bridge in 1963.

The short program will be followed by a picnic lunch at noon, with BCHS Board members grilling hot dogs and other society members providing lemonade, chips and cupcakes, Lange said.

Located just north of Princeton about a mile west of Route 26, the Red Covered Bridge is one of only five covered bridges in Illinois which is still open to traffic, Lange said. Princeton has the oldest covered bridge (the Red Covered Bridge) in Illinois and the newest, the Captain Swift covered bridge built in 2006.

When the Red Covered Bridge was built in 1863, people probably didn’t think much about it because covered bridges were commonly built in those days, Lange said. One reason for covering the bridges in those days was to protect the intricate and elaborate understructure system to the bridge. Since travel in those days was by horseback or horse and buggy, another reason was to help block the horses’ vision of the water below them, since horses would typically get skiddish over rushing water, she said.

Another interesting piece of trivia was that in those early winters when horse-drawn sleighs were used, people had to shovel snow onto the bridge road so the sleighs could use the bridge, Lange said.

Looking ahead to the Sept. 2 celebration, Lange said lots of interesting information will be presented on the Red Covered Bridge, its history and impact on the community. People are encouraged to bring their lawn chairs, have a picnic lunch and celebrate the Red Covered Bridge.

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Red Covered Bridge facts

• Built in 1863 and rehabilitated in 1973.
• Crosses Big Bureau Creek, which was once part of the Peoria-Galena Trail.
• Total cost of constructing the bridge was $3,148.57. Of that amount, $1,000 was paid by Bureau County, $600 by Dover Township and $1,548 by public subscription.
• Placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.
• Rules posted on the bridge: "Five dollars fine for driving more than 12 horses, mules or cattle at one time or for leading any beast faster than a walk on or across this bridge."

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