ELLISVILLE, Ill. — The ghosts in Gene and Carol Goldsmith's old home will be getting pretty lonely soon.
Those retired folk aren't going anywhere. But after March 23, when repairs begin on the bridge that carries Fulton County Road 17 across Spoon River just east of their house, very few people will visit this small village.
Ellisville's 96 residents will be cut off from paved routes east along CR-17 and north and south on County Road 2, which intersects it a mile east of the river.
The only way in or out in those directions will be on County Road 26, "just an old gravel, dirty road," Gene said, that would pound a car to pieces if it exceeded 30 mph over its four-mile stretch north to the closest paved highway.
Other than a nearly 20-mile detour west on CR-17, then south on another county road before doubling back on Illinois Route 9, that rocky, pitted stretch of CR-26 will serve as the village's virtual lifeline until late summer 2012.
In terms of groceries and supplies, "Everything we need to survive we have to go to Canton for," Goldsmith said.
Using the gravel road, that trip will grow from about 19 miles in 25 minutes to 33 miles in an hour. And CR-26 likely won't be the chosen route from the east for emergency vehicles such as ambulances, said Fulton County Sheriff Jeff Standard.
He expects his department's vehicles and those from the Fairview Fire Protection District, only seven miles east of Ellisville on CR-17, will take the roundabout route using Route 9 to reach Ellisville. A seven-minute response time could reach close to a half-hour.
"That is a concern," Standard said.
Built nearly 50 years ago, the bridge over the Spoon on CR-17 is crumbling. Repavement and other repairs have been planned for years but delayed until state and federal funds finally became available, said a county Highway Department spokesman.
But with no funds available to pave over the CR-26 gravel, Spoon River School District 4 in London Mills will have no choice but to submit its buses to the road's pounding to serve the 22 students on its Ellisville-area route, said Superintendent Scot Reynolds.
That will add 20 minutes in each direction to the route, which typically uses CR-2 as its north-south venue.
"A lot of people are concerned" that spring floodings and other bad weather will render the gravel road impassable at times, Reynolds said. "We'll have to cross that bridge when we come to it."
Until the repairs end, no one will cross the bridge at Ellisville, including the hundreds of vehicles that regularly came each October during the annual Spoon River Scenic Drive.
"The Drive is a real (financial) boon to their community," Standard said. "This will hurt them."
Carol Goldsmith said a local women's club called the Goal Getters raise several thousand dollars a year for charities through dinners and other functions it holds during the Drive and at other times. She doesn't know how the group will fare while the bridge is out.
"The women say they won't take that gravel road" to town for the events, she said.
The Goldsmiths live in a two-story white house that they figure is about 175 years old. It began as a hotel when Ellisville had as many as 2,600 residents, then took turns as a funeral home and later a restaurant that Gene Goldsmith remembers eating at during squirrel-hunt outings from his Peoria home when he was 15.
"It was part of the Underground Railroad," he said, when its owners hid runaway slaves before the Civil War. "I guess that's why there are so many ghosts here," Carol quipped.
Ownership of the home eventually came to Gene Goldsmith's late mother. He and Carol moved from Champaign four years ago to enjoy retirement there.
They can only hope their ghosts won't be the only ones keeping them and their Ellisville neighbors company for the next 18 months.
Information from: Journal Star, http://pjstar.com