Lincoln Highway Road Trip
To get fired up for a road trip on the Lincoln Highway, which runs from NYC’s Times Square to San Francisco, it helps to understand its origins. The road was born of one man’s vision during a time when America had few roads, the vast majority of which were dirt. When it rained, these roads turned to muck. To get anywhere, most people took trains. Here’s what happened next.
Lincoln Highway’s Origins
In 1912, Carl Fisher, the entrepreneur who had founded the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, thought America needed a coast-to-coast highway. When the project appeared stalled, Henry Joy, the president of Packard Motor Car Co., suggested naming the road after Abraham Lincoln, a move that reignited support for the project. The 1913 dedication of the highway made it the first national memorial to Abraham Lincoln. It was built during an era of highways that had names only; the numbered system replaced this in 1926 and the Lincoln Highway, over the protests of its founders, was divided among numerous numbered routes. Originally running 3,389 miles, the route was shortened over the ensuing 9 years to 3,142 miles -- its length today. For a wealth of information on the highway and play-by-play driving instructions see the Lincoln Highway Association’s website.
OK, class dismissed! It’s time to get out there and drive this road.
Lincoln Highway: State by State
For a taste of history that pre-dates the Lincoln Highway, take a walking tour of the 15-block historic district of New Brunswick, NJ, where several mansions and churches date back to the 1700s.
Staying on theme, drop into Philadelphia (the highway approaches from the north) and visit the recently improved Liberty Bell Center, Valley Forge National Historic Park and, if you’ve got kids with you, Franklin Square one of 5 public parks planned by William Penn in his original Philly design.
In Pittsburgh, stretch your legs in 561-acre Frick Park before checking out the Andy Warhol Museum, both just off the Lincoln Highway.
In Ohio, look for the historic Spread Eagle Tavern in Hanoverton, OH. Also, one Ohio’s 4 original Lincoln Highway markers is about 2.5 miles east of Bucyrus, OH, on County Highway 76 (the Old Lincoln Highway) at the northwest corner of the Stewart Cemetery. The stretch of road between the Ohio cities of Canton and Massillon hold numerous businesses named Lincoln, including the Lincoln Theater, which shows classic films. Also standing sentry here are the Lincoln Way Motors and the Motel Lincoln.
Fort Wayne, Indiana
The highway passes through Fort Wayne, IN, where you can see a replica of Lincoln’s Log Cabin in Foster Park, and take in a national production at the ornate Embassy Theater, built in 1928.
In Dixon, IL, stop by the Lincoln Monument and at a number of seriously old but well-preserved structures.
Nebraska offers a chance to drive on original Lincoln Highway bricks, laid down in 1920; follow highway signs 2.5 miles west of the village of Boy’s Town.
If you’re up for paying more homage to the Lincoln Highway in Cheyenne, WY, pause at the Lincoln and Henry Joy monuments, which are next to each other. Also visit the Union Pacific train station. In Evanston, in far west Wyoming, immerse in aquatic activities and spy elk and bison in Bear River State Park.
Salt Lake City
In Salt Lake City, walk the trendy-hip ’hood of 9th and 9th and the emerging district around 1500 East and 1500 South, which includes the trendy Paris Bistro.
In Nevada, the highway doubles up with US Route 50; the eerily empty spaces justify the nickname “The loneliest road in America.” Loneliness has its virtues, however, including the town of Austin, NV, where you can choose from a buffet of outdoor activities, including fishing, mountain biking, ATV riding and wilderness hiking.
In a nod to Carl Fisher, stop at the National Automobile Museum in Reno, NV. He would be proud.
California! The Lincoln Highway actually took 2 routes over the Sierra Nevada. The northern route is more thrilling, rising 7,056 feet high. At Donner Pass, you can visit (on foot) remnants of the original road. The end of the highway, while scenic, is unceremonious: a marker adjacent to a golf course in San Francisco’s Lincoln Park. To more fittingly mark your completion of Fisher’s vision, head to Elixir, one of the oldest continually running saloons in San Francisco. The restored wood and fittings will bring you back to an era when people dreamt big -- and followed through. Unfortunately, it won’t transport you back to NYC’s Times Square.
Travel writer John Briley has unwittingly driven many sections of the Lincoln Highway.