Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Lincoln Highway Celebrations

by Nancy McCammon-Hansen

When you live in the Midwest or on the Great Plains, travel via automobile is something you take for granted. If you want to go from Point A to Point B, you hop in the car and go. If you’re like many of us who grew up in the last century, you probably traveled often on the Lincoln Highway.

Next week, the Lincoln Highway Centennial Celebration begins the culmination of a year of events celebrating the history of America’s first paved transcontinental highway. Are we Americans the only ones who celebrate roads?

Beginning June 21 in Times Square in New York City and June 22 in San Francisco, 270 people travelling in 140 vehicles—many of them “vintage” cars—will trek across our country via the Lincoln Highway to meet up June 30 at the Archway Museum in my hometown of Kearney, NE. The Archway spans Interstate 80 and celebrates travel in our nation. If you’re crossing Nebraska on your way west, you should stop and take a look around. 

On June 26, the westward group will begin the day in Mansfield, OH and end in South Bend, lunching in Elkhart at the Manufactured Housing Hall of Fame and having dinner at the Studebaker Museum (see my blog post from last fall—it’s a great day trip from Fort Wayne).

We owe the Lincoln Highway in large part to the founder of the Indy 500. Carl Fisher was well aware that the poor condition of roads outside towns was not conducive to travel other than by train. Brick was the preferred method of paving streets in towns but asphalt and concrete had yet to be used as paving material. Fisher decided in 1912 that America needed a transcontinental highway. He’d also go on to turn a swamp into the beach resort of Miami Beach.

From the website:

“He called his idea the Coast-to-Coast Rock Highway. The gravelled road would cost about ten million dollars, low even for 1912. Communities along the route would provide the equipment and in return would receive free materials and a place along America's first transcontinental highway. The highway would be finished in time for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition and would run from the exposition's host, San Francisco, to New York City.

“To fund this scheme, he asked for cash donations from auto manufacturers and accessory companies of 1 percent of their revenues. The public could become members of the highway organization for five dollars.

“Fisher knew that success of the ten-million dollar fund would depend on the support of Henry Ford. Unfortunately, even after many persuasive attempts by friends and close associates, Ford would not support the project. The public would never learn to fund good roads if private industry did it for them, he reasoned. This put the fund in jeopardy; there would not be enough time or money to finish the highway by the exposition in 1915. However, now that the country had become so enthusiastic about the highway, Fisher would not give up. Two men from the automobile industry who pledged money to Fisher's idea would later play major roles in the highway's development: Frank Seiberling, president of Goodyear, and Henry Joy, president of the Packard Motor Car Company.”

Joy decided the highway should be named for Abraham Lincoln, thinking that a good road across the nation was a fitting tribute to the Civil War president and that the patriotic feel to the name would help with fund raising. 

“He wrote Fisher urging him to write a letter of protest to Congress, which was considering spending $1.7 million on a marble memorial to Lincoln… Fisher asked Joy if he wanted to be involved directly with the highway project. At first, Joy was hesitant, but soon he wholeheartedly supported the project and became the primary spokesman for the highway.”

You can learn more about the Lincoln Highway through Indiana via the website:

The highway took several routes through Indiana over the late teens and early 1920s and today you can see signs along streets such as State to indicate the later route through Fort Wayne.

Traveling the Lincoln Highway gets you off the Interstate and into parts of our country some seldom see. If you’re looking for a good road trip, consider this route. You’ll be glad you did!

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