Long Grove residents and leaders celebrated a historic moment for the village's downtown outside a 172-year-old restaurant and tavern Thursday evening.
With a flick of a ceremonial switch by Village Tavern owner Chip Ullrich, downtown Long Grove's first streetlights came on.
Long Grove, founded by German settlers in 1838 and named for a stretch of trees cutting through the region, was officially incorporated in 1956. Village President Bill Jacob noted the significance of the evening in his remarks to the crowd of about 100 that gathered by the tavern on Old McHenry Road.
"We've never had streetlights in the downtown," Jacob said. "So, it is an amazing thing seeing them standing here tonight."
Downtown Long Grove's $3.8 million Old McHenry Road construction project, led by the Lake County Division of Transportation, began a little more than a year ago and ended last month. It went from the Long Grove Fire Protection District station north of Route 53 to the shared entrance drive to village hall and Kildeer Countryside School.
Along with the vintage street lamps for downtown, there now are a repaved Old McHenry Road and wider sidewalks meeting Americans With Disabilities Act standards.
In a separate but related project, the village installed a public water main to make downtown more attractive to food-oriented businesses as it moves on from the days when visitors flocked to antique shops on weekends.
Ullrich has been a proponent of streetlights in downtown Long Grove in an effort to increase pedestrian traffic and business at night. His establishment dates to 1847 and has been in continuous operation longer than any other restaurant and tavern in Illinois.
"It's the future of a new town going on right now, with all the new people that are going to come in and rent shops," Ullrich said as the lights drew cheers.
Jesse DeSoto, co-owner of the Fred Astaire Dance Studio on Old McHenry Road, was part of Thursday night's crowd. He said he's excited about what the improvements should mean for the downtown's future.
"This is going to be a destination town," DeSoto said. "It's just a matter of time. It's not going to go back to what it was -- that whole retail, tchotchkes -- that era has changed. Amazon taught us that. But we're going to see a nice destination, as you can kind of see tonight. Bring your family out. A safe place to come and enjoy and be part of the community. This will be the spot."
Lake County Board member Adam Didech of neighboring Buffalo Grove, who also attended the streetlight festivities, said he expects the Old McHenry Road project to add to the downtown revitalization efforts. He said the lighting and new sidewalks will improve safety and make the downtown more accessible to those with disabilities.
"Festivals shouldn't just be for people who have no disability," Didech said. "Long Grove is a welcoming community and this adds to that, because it's going to make the festivals a lot more accessible."
Robert Parker Coffin Road remains under construction downtown. And repairs and installation of a new cover are scheduled for the historic Coffin Road bridge over Buffalo Creek. Those projects should be finished by the end of the year.