Way of life collides with U.S. 45 plan
by LeAnn Spencer
For more than 100 years, the world
has been whizzing by Millburn with
scarcely a backward glance.
Passersby have slipped through the
historic little community as they travel
busy U.S. Highway 45 on their way
to someplace else.
But lack of attention has been quite
all right, thank you, for the 60 or so
folks of Millburn. Most want to preserve
the town's status as a historical
district, one of the county's last standing
reminders of an early 1800s settlement.
But now some fear that progress
could change the face of Millburn.
The unincorporated village lies directly
in the path of U.S. 45, and the Illinois
Department of Transportation is
studying the possibility of widening
the highway from Illinois Highway
120 in north central Lake County all
the way north to the state line.
No decision has been made and
public hearings are three to four
months away, but preservationists are
working with transportation officials
to make them aware of Millburn's historic
Indeed, the area's band of history
buffs - who live in unincorporated
Millburn or have an abiding interest
in preserving the community - have
been looking out for this rural patch
of history since 1979, when they first
got wind of a possible state plan to
widen U.S. 45.
The group formed the Historic
Millburn Community Association
Inc., which boasts about 50 members,
said Dorothy Fettinger, president of
the association and an unabashed
"There's a lot of community spirit
here," said Fettinger, who also volunteers
at Martin's General Store,
the last of Millburn's original businesses.
In the last century, U.S. 45 was
little more than a gravel track
that ran from Lake Superior to
the Gulf of Mexico, and Millburn
grew up along the route. It eventually
boasted two stores, three
doctors, a milliner, seamstress,
blacksmith and a tiny
Millburn's citizens have been
protecting their own ever since,
beginning long before the association
was born. According to Reva
Konefes, whose greatgrandparents
immigrated from Scotland to settle in Millburn,
turn-of-the-century residents managed
to turn away a proposed
railroad line, and it eventually
was routed through Antioch.
Today, thanks to the efforts of
the association members, the
community's historic district includes
18 buildings on the National
Register of Historic Landmarks.
The area has a certain country
charm. You won't find a gas station,
strip mall or department
store. The only businesses are the
old store and a new gallery.
The general store, which Fettinger
said is the oldest continuously
operating store in the county, is
open only on weekends and
sells antiques and displays a
collection of artifacts.
Most of the landmark buildings
are nestled on their wooded lots,
surrounded by area farms. But
several sit perilously close to the
shoulder of the highway.
Fortunately for the preservationists,
landmark status makes it
more difficult for the state to condemn
the land to make way for a
road, said Anne Hacker, a
spokeswoman for the Illinois
Historic Preservation Agency.
If a highway project uses federal
or state funding, transportation
officials must meet with preservation
officials and prove that all
other alternatives have been
considered, she said.
The state Department of Transportation
is studying a variety of
options in the area, said Richard
Starr, a Transportation Department
spokesman. No decision has
been made, and public hearings
will not be held for three to four
months, Starr said.
Options include constructing
bypasses on either side of town,
but each has its problems.
On the east side is the cemetery
where gravestones memorialize
Millburn's first families, who had
Scottish names such as Strang,
McCredie, Bairstow, and Bonner.
To the west is 300-acre
McDonald Forest Preserve, a portion
of Lindenhurst and privately
Members of the historic association
would like to see a U.S. 45 bypass on the
road. They said that it would be the lesser
of many evils and
would fix an awkward curve just north of town,
uproot few people
and pave only a sliver of the forest preserve.
Still, many in Millburn
acknowledged that they would
rather just be left alone.
"It's discouraging to see
development moving into the area so
rapidly," said Dawn Revenaugh,
owner of the Millburn Gallery.
Revenaugh and her husband,
Bill, moved to Millburn from
Lake Forest 10 years ago and
have settled into an 1890s
farmhouse. The gallery is in a
remodeled chicken coop and
overlooks a portion of McDonald
A small stream winds through
the property, and Revenaugh said
that if the road were widened she
would lose her wooded front yard.
Meanwhile, an ungainly new stop light, still
wrapped in burlap, hangs over the intersection
where Grass lake Road and Millburn Road
meet U.S. 45.
It serves as an uncomfortable
reminder to Millburn preservationists
that even though the village
historically has been able to
avoid many of the trappings of
modern life, Millburn's future
may not look the same.
"We realize that we may not
live ling enough to see a highway
built here," Fettinger said, "but if
they would only designate the
right-of-way before people
build more houses and subdivisions