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Lincoln Highway 100th anniversary PDF Print E-mail
Monday, June 10, 2013 12:42 AM

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One hundred years ago a new era was dawning across the United States. With the invention of the automobile came a need for better roads to connect communities with one another.

How significant is a “road”? Without question, we are a nation of drivers. Our culture, economy and our architecture have long been defined by the “road.” Paul Marriott in his book From Milestones to Mile-Markers, points out “We refer to the ‘Great White Way (New York’s Broadway), we get our Kicks on Route 66,' we refer to living 'in the fast lane' even when we are not in an automobile and our politicians in Washington, D.C., don’t understand us with their 'inside the beltway' mentality. Our entrepreneurs have developed the 'drive-in,' the 'drive-thru' and the 'drive-up'.”

 

Our own Lincoln Highway has been the inspiration for songs, radio shows, books of poetry, documentaries and PBS specials. In the 1920s and 30s, there were five different songs titled, “Lincoln Highway.” The 1939 MGM classic, Babes in Arms featured a song sung by Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland titled “God’s Country” that contained the lyrics “Hi there, neighbor, Going my way, East or West on the Lincoln Highway.” This song became so popular that NBC picked it as the theme song for The Lincoln Highway Radio Show, which premiered in 1940 on 48 stations coast to coast.

 

To most, the Lincoln Highway, or Main Street Across America as it is also called, is simply a road. It is something to travel over, across and along to get to places of great interest or away from other places. To pedestrians, it’s often no more than a surface moving threatening vehicles across their path. So what is it about the Lincoln Highway that makes it so historically important?

Most notable is the fact the Lincoln Highway was the first road to connect the Atlantic coast with the Pacific coast – from Times Square in New York City to Lincoln Park in San Francisco. For those who could afford to own an automobile in the late teens and early 20s, it was mostly for prestige or a novelty. The owner really couldn’t drive the car anywhere other than around the neighborhood because there were no roads connecting one city with another. For long-distance travel, people were still relying on horses and trains. Once the Lincoln Highway came into existence, communities not located along the route began to build feeder roads to connect their towns with the main highway. Travel by automobile, while still difficult and treacherous, did become a reality.

Secondly, this highway was not built with government contracts or even with taxpayers’ money. The Lincoln Highway was the brainchild of Carl Fisher, who made his fortune manufacturing Presto-Lite compressed carbide-gas headlights for early autos and also built the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and established the Indianapolis 500. Fisher was convinced the future of America lay in the automobile and he encouraged other automotive entrepreneurs to invest some of their profits in this project. He also invited the public to pledge money for the construction of the highway. In today’s environment, undertaking such a massive project without government backing is incomprehensible.

Thirdly, the Lincoln Highway is the father of our modern highway system. Soon after the building of the Lincoln began, other multi-state roads were being considered, such as the Jefferson Highway, the National Old Trails Road, the Old Spanish Trail and the Yellowstone Trail. As the number of roads grew, and with it a need for better marking of highways, the federal government devised a plan to use numbers in place of names. Thus, the Lincoln Highway became officially known as U.S. Route 30.

Today’s massive interstate highway system is also intertwined with the story of the Lincoln Highway. In 1919, the U.S. Army undertook its first transcontinental motor convoy. The convoy began in Washington, D.C., on July 7 and headed for Gettysburg, Pa. From there, it followed the Lincoln Highway to San Francisco. Bridges cracked and were rebuilt, vehicles became stuck in mud and equipment broke but the convoy was greeted warmly by communities across the country.

The convoy reached San Francisco on Sept. 5. One participant in the convoy was a bored young Army officer, Lt. Colonel Dwight David Eisenhower. The convoy was memorable enough for him to include a chapter on the trip, “Through Darkest America With Truck and Tank,” in At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends (Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1967). “The trip had been difficult, tiring and fun,” he said. That experience plus his observations of the German autobahn network during World War II convinced him to support construction of the Interstate System when he became president. “The old convoy had started me thinking about good, two-lane highways, but Germany had made me see the wisdom of broader ribbons across the land.” His “Grand Plan” for highways, announced in 1954, led to the 1956 legislative breakthrough that created the Highway Trust Fund to accelerate construction of the Interstate System.

The Van Wert Area Convention and Visitors Bureau invites everyone to share in this important observance of the 100th birthday of the Lincoln Highway. Between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on June 26, a convoy of historic automobiles will stop at Fountain Park for a picnic lunch prepared by the Van Wert Historical Society. The community is encouraged to come to the park, mingle with the drivers and check out their cars. A cash donation for lunch is considered to help cover expenses.

On June 27, a new Lincoln Highway informational kiosk in Fountain Park will be dedicated. On June 28, the evening concert in Fountain Park will feature the Toledo Jazz Orchestra, who will be playing hits of the big band era. Relive those wonderful sounds and songs of the Glenn Miller Orchestra, Tommy Dorsey, Harry James, Woody Herman and Stan Kenton bands. Dance the night away with some of the best ballads and swing tunes ever written. Come to the concert early that evening to inspect the many antique and classic cars that will be on display.

The Van Wert County Convention and Visitors Bureau has Lincoln Highway garden flags for sale. These mini-flags may be purchased at the Bureau’s office at 136 E. Main St. for $12 They also have a few metal flag holders for sale.

Last Updated on Monday, June 10, 2013 9:23 PM
 

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