When looking to the north from Ellsworth Park and Route 150, one can usually see at least three large concrete arches, the others being obscured by trees and overgrowth. It might not occur to the casual observer that over sixty years ago, this decaying structure once served as a vital link between Danville and Champaign-Urbana.
Having replaced two previous bridges at this location, the Mill Street Bridge (the street being the former name for Logan Ave), was built in 1915 at a cost of $80,000. The bridge was of an open spandrel arch design, 791.8 feet long, and spanned the North Fork River valley. It stood about 70 feet above the river bed, and featured a brick-laid roadway, 30 feet wide, and 5 foot sidewalks hanging over each side of the bridge.
After the bridge was built, several important structural issues were soon to be discovered: These included a lack of drainage in the approaches, inadequate provision for expansion, as well as the arch rib of one span having been built with a 9 inch greater rise than the design called for. Cracks were seen in the east approach span by 1918, and in 1921 the bridge required immediate and extensive repairs to prevent the approach (and possibly the rest of the bridge) from collapsing.
By the 1940s, parts of the steel reinforcement had become exposed by fallen pieces of concrete, and a load limit was imposed in September of 1947. A year later, the state recommended that it be closed to all traffic. However, because of it's importance as a primary route westward, the city of Danville compromised and banned trucks from crossing the bridge. Additionally, signs were posted that set a 10mph speed limit for cars. In 1950, the bridge was effectively bypassed by Route 150.
The Mill Street Bridge was finally closed to car and pedestrian traffic in May of 1960. By that point, large portions of guardrail had fallen, and rehabilitation was practically impossible. In December 1965, the city of Danville authorized action to have the approach spans demolished to keep pedestrians off of the bridge. Besides the occasional rogues who would pull their bikes up on ropes and ride on the deck, the bridge has been abandoned since early 1966. The bridge was considered for demolition several times after its abandonment, but nothing ever came of the proposals.
Today, the remaining seven spans have been claimed by nature, and a notable ecosystem is growing on and around the bridge. An access road which once lead to the bridge on the east side of the river, has since become overgrown and is quickly becoming a heavily wooded floodplain with few navigable paths. Several signs warning of falling debris have been posted in the area, including the warning having been written on the piers of the bridge itself. Many portions of fallen railing and lamp posts lie underneath the bridge to this day.
Despite the troubled history of the structure, the Mill Street Bridge is undoubtably the largest remaining example of a pre-1920 open spandrel arch highway bridge in central Illinois. The bridge and the surrunding area offers a unique opportunity for hikers and casual park-goers to experience and inquire about the large concrete spans—abandoned, overgrown, and beautiful.
Letter to the Editor
December 19, 1921
Memorial Bridge is so near completion, I have been wondering if it is to be brilliantly lighted. I trust that it will be and that better care will be taken of it than the handsome Mill Street bridge. The latter is usually kept lighted on only one side, presumably to save current. That is all right, but if the idea is to save, why not turn the current off at daylight? Last week, and in fact most every day lately, the east side has been lighted not only all night but all day.
It seems to me it would be better to light both sides at night and turn off the current during the day. The lights are getting fewer each day. Many are broken and five of these are the large frosted globes. Probably this is the work of boys who realize they make excellent targets.
These are mentioned merely so that those interested should know of them. It looks bad to visitors here, especially to tourists who have heard much of Danville. It might help some if police officers visited that part of the city occasionally. It may be that at times a "blue coat" does get up this way, but the writer has never seen one and he crosses the bridge four or five times a day. These two bridges are something of which the city should be proud and civic pride should not dwindle after the novelty of the thing has worn off.
Let's have the new bridge lighted, but lighted on both sides at night only, instead of just one side each night and day. What say?
The reason the writer wasn't sure about the lighting on the new Victory Memorial bridge is because lights weren't added until after the bridge was done. Some favored boulevard style lighting and others had a different idea. Cost was also a factor-it took a while to get it sorted out. That's the reason the lights were mounted at curbside, rather than on the bridge rails as on the Mill Street Bridge.