A Sangamon River Q & A

(Latest Notes from the River column

Now that I’ve been at this for a few weeks, my reader mailbag is filling up. So this week, we reach down into the ol’ mailbag and answer a few of your most pressing questions about the Sangamon River.

Q: “Scott, have there ever been any historic places along the Sangamon River that were saved by bats?”

Good question! As a matter of fact, there have been! One key to preserving the Historic Hazen Bridge on CR2600N was finding a colony of Indiana Bats, an endangered species, in the rock base on the east end of the bridge. A group of concerned citizens had wanted to save the historic bridge from being scrapped when Champaign County built a spiffy new concrete bridge to replace it in 1993. But they were having trouble convincing others of its value. The discovery of the colony of endangered Indiana Bats helped to convince others that the Hazen Bridge should be preserved.

Q: “Where do all those Great Blue Herons that I’ve spotted on the river come from?”

A: Well, first, there is a girl heron and she goes to Homecoming and meets this special boy heron, then they get married and…wait, no…. Actually, the Hazen Bridge property also includes 5 acres of bottomland, mostly to the north of the bridge following both banks of the river. Just beyond the north boundary of the site (and situated past the fence on private property, by the way) is a significant Great Blue Heron rookery high up among the Sycamores. In the winter, when the trees are leafless, up to 27 huge and gangly looking heron nests have been spotted perched impossibly high among the giant Sycamore trees.

Q: “Are there any structures along the Sangamon River built by Seevers Manufacturing of Oskaloosa, Iowa?”

A: Funny you should ask! As a matter of fact, there is at least one.  The Historic Hazen Bridge on CR2600N was built in 1893 by Seevers Manufacturing. They were the low bidder on the job and were paid $4,985 by Champaign County to build the bridge. For you bridge aficionados out there, the Hazen Bridge is a pin connected steel “Pratt through truss” bridge with a unique long western approach to keep it safely above the flood plain. Apparently, Seevers was a pretty fine choice since the bridge was in service for 100 years, and even now, nearly 120 years later, the bridge is still standing and anyone can still walk across it anytime.

Q: “Where are some good spots to put a canoe or kayak into the Sangamon River?”

A: Well, there are many spots, and you can review them at www.sangamonriver.org. But one that comes immediately to mind is at the Hazen Bridge on CR2600N (imagine that). The site presents a good public place to launch a canoe or kayak on the river, although parking is all but nonexistent. Something many of us would like to change.

Q: “Are there are any sites along the Sangamon River on the National Register of Historic Places?”

A: I happen to know of one, the Historic Hazen Bridge on CR2600N. In 1994, the Preservation and Conservation Association of Champaign County, which took ownership of the property and the bridge in 1993, filed the application for the Hazen Bridge based on its structure, but most importantly, due to the cast iron column “bents” that support the long western approach which are completely unique and in fact are the only known example of its kind.  This justified its inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.

The bridge is still owned by the Preservation and Conservation Association of Champaign County and stewarded by the Upper Sangamon River Conservancy. USRC members have been taking care of the bridge for a few years now, clearing away brush and trees and cleaning up the bridge site.

Q: “Are you making these questions up?”

A: Why, I’m insulted you would even imply such a thing.

Q: “Well it’s hard to believe that anybody would actually ask if there were any historic places on the Sangamon River that were saved by bats. I mean, come on.”

A: Well, all I can say is, take a drive up to the Hazen Bridge, four miles north of the Village to CR 2600N, turn right and go another half mile, down the hill. Park off to the right, if you can squeeze in, and step out of your car and into history. And maybe you too will find some answers to some of your own pressing questions.

Appeared as “Notes from the River” in the Mahomet Citizen, Oct. 5, 2011, by Scott Hays

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