5 Questions with Commercial Club's Mary Collette and Christine Schilling

The Commercial Club seeks community help to bring life back to a centerpiece of Historic Commercial Street.

By Karen Bliss | Photos courtesy Shutterstock, Mary Collette and Vivian Wheeler

Dec 2017

The Jefferson Avenue Footbridge closed in March of 2016 because of safety concerns.

Preserving, protecting and promoting Springfield’s past is, and has been, a goal of the Commercial Club of Springfield since the early 1900s. One of the club’s most recent projects has been working toward a full restoration of the Jefferson Avenue Footbridge.

Bringing life to this historic structure, which closed in March of 2016 because of safety concerns, is a high priority for the club. Mary Collette, president of Commercial Club, and Christine Schilling, chair of the club’s public arts committee, share more about their restoration efforts.

Christine Schilling and Mary Collette are working tirelessly to preserve the Jefferson Avenue Footbridge on Historic Commercial Street.

417 Magazine: What is your role in the effort to restore this historical bridge?
Mary Collette: As Commercial Club president, my role is to help shape policy and partner with my board to build support for, increase awareness of and develop fundraising strategies for important projects on C-Street.

Christine Schilling: I see it as part of my personal charge to raise awareness of this beautiful, historic structure as an icon and a sculpture. I have organized art events at the Footbridge. Most recently, the Commercial Club hosted a Portraits of The Footbridge art class for second graders from Eugene Field Elementary School. We displayed their colorful portraits at Drury On C-Street’s Art Gallery. Sales of their drawings and notecards of their work have raised almost $1,000 to date.

Original art created by a student from Eugene Field Elementary School.

417: Out of all the historical areas in Springfield to restore, why the footbridge?
The Jefferson Avenue Footbridge in Springfield is an integral part of this intact, six-block long historic district. There is not another district of this scale that is as important to the history of Springfield than C-Street. The coming of the railroad to Springfield is most likely the most important event in the history of our community, transforming it from a sleepy, rural town to the diverse economy we now enjoy. We are working very hard to create something unique and special uptown on Historic Commercial Street. We believe the Jefferson Avenue Footbridge is our crowning glory, making C-Street a worldwide destination.

417: What does this project mean to you?
M.C.: The Jefferson Avenue Footbridge is a visual symbol for “building bridges.” To thrive as a community, we must build bridges between neighborhoods and diverse groups of people: rich and poor, old and young, black and white, locals and visitors, varying religious beliefs, healthy and those who are suffering—just to name a few. The Footbridge is a gathering place where all these groups come together. You never knew who you would meet or how far they had come to stand on this unique structure. People literally came from all over the world to experience the spectacular view from its center, or to capture a senior’s portrait or an engagement or to celebrate wedding vows. It is a gathering place and a focal point for nearly every C-Street celebration. It is a popular destination unlike any in our community.

C.S.: The Jefferson Avenue Footbridge represents the role Commercial Street itself can play, indeed has long played, in “bridging” the past and the future, the north side and the south side, classes, races, ages. This bridge, beautifully lit up at night, glows like a beacon of hope.

417: How is the Commercial Club working with the community to make this restoration a reality?
M.C.: Well, first we started a petition that anyone can go online and sign. Then we created a Facebook page calledSave Our Footbridge.” Then we raised $10,000 to get a second estimate for the restoration. The VS Engineers’ price came in $1 million less than the original city bid, which was $2.9 million, while VS Engineers came in at $1.8 million. Next, we created the fund at Community Foundation, where we plan to raise $50,000 to pay for deck replacement.

We recently partnered with the second graders at Eugene Field Elementary, who created their very own campaign called “A Penny a Day Helps the Footbridge Stay.” These students raised more than $200 in pennies. Right now, we’re working with AdWorks to get a PSA edited down to 30- and 15-second spots for placement in our media.

C.S.: In (Commercial Club’s) footbridge reconstruction efforts, we have widely advertised public meetings and newsletters and used media blitzes to help us to reach out to our surrounding neighborhoods, schools and civic organizations. Drury University School of Architecture, historians, city and national organizations and residents present and past have all shared in our continual visioning process.

417: Is there a possibility of this project not making it to completion?
Absolutely. It is certainly possible that our beautiful Jefferson Avenue Footbridge will end up as scrap metal. If we do not preserve this unique structure, it will be gone forever, yet another testimonial to our consumer society where newer is always better and the past is meaningless.

C.S.: I will chain myself to the Footbridge if this ever becomes a possibility—my great aunts did this as a part of the Suffragette Movement. To me, this is equally important, and I am not joking.

What can I do to help?

Donate to the cause
Check out the Community Foundation Fund online at Click on “Donate” and choose Jefferson Avenue Footbridge Fund in the drop-down menu.

Purchase notecards of the bridge
A set of five notecards features different drawings of the Footbridge by the second graders of Eugene Field for $5. They are available at Pizza House, Drury on C-Street, Ms. Gilmore’s Tea Room and Vintage Suitcase, Chabom Teas + Spices, Junk Drunks LLC, Sangha Studio: Ayurveda + Shoppe, Hakaar’s Bazaar and also at Maschino’s.

Join the Commercial Club
The club also meets monthly, 6 p.m., the first Tuesday of each month at 299 E. Commercial. Sign up for the C-Street Communique E-Blast at Meetings are free and open to the public.

Write your city council representative
In addition, if you have comments, concerns or questions, you can contact your city council representatives by sending an email or letter.