InTrans / Aug 19, 2014

A way across the country

Go! Magazine

Lincolnway Highwayposted on August 19, 2014

Called the “Mainstreet across America” in its heyday, the Lincoln Highway was the first transcontinental road in the United States. Although no longer widely used for cross-country travel, it is still a vital part of U.S. transportation history.

In the 1910s, most “roads” outside of urban areas were just ungraded dirt or gravel paths from one town to the next. In wet weather, they became quagmires. There was no master national road plan or road system that helped motorists travel long distances efficiently. Visionary Carl Fisher, an automobile enthusiast from Indiana, imagined one continuous road from coast to coast. He sent out trail blazers to find the best automobile route across the country.

Based on their efforts, the Lincoln Highway Association, a non-governmental group of people interested in promoting the transcontinental way, announced the official route in 1913. The Lincoln Highway traveled through 12 states from New York to San Francisco. (Take your own ride on the Lincoln Highway via an interactive map.) The LHA encouraged and relied on local and state governments to maintain the Lincoln Highway. The association also raised funds to repair and improve sections of the road and encourage its use.

Despite the LHA’s best efforts, the Lincoln Highway was never fully improved. By 1915 a person could drive the Lincoln Highway from New York to San Francisco, but significant portions of the road were still gravel or dirt paths. When the Great Depression hit, the Lincoln Highway fell into disrepair. Large portions were abandoned because of lack of funding and disuse. And when the construction of interstate highways began in the 1950s, many remaining miles of the Lincoln Highway were neglected.

Only a few sections of the original road, such as “Lincoln Way” in Ames, IA, are still in use, but these sections make up only small stretches of the original 3,300-plus miles. In 1992, a new Lincoln Highway Association was established, with chapters in several states.

Its goal is to preserve, restore, and reconnect the Lincoln Highway for its historical interest. The association has annual conferences (in Tooele, UT, in 2014), plans motor tours of the famous byway, and hosts a website with highlights from the road.

By Brandon Hallmark, Go! Staff Writer

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