For highway travelers, This Is the Place.Since 1869, when the last spike of the Transcontinental Railroad was driven into a tie at Promontory, Utah, railroad tracks have stitched together America's East and West Coasts. But less than a century ago, a decade after the "horseless carriage" began to dramatically expand people's mobility, no single highway yet spanned the United States.
Roads at the time -- some 2.5 million miles, mostly of dirt -- didn't necessarily connect, frequently led nowhere and sometimes ended in barnyards or dwindled to nothing in grassy fields.
Then, in 1912, Carl Fisher, an Indianapolis manufacturer of automobile headlights, came up with a plan.
Reasoning that better roads would increase the demand for cars and accessories, Fisher (who also helped found the Indianapolis Motor Speedway) began a campaign to get funding from manufacturers to build a graveled road he called the Coast-to-Coast Rock Highway.
Within a month he had raised a million dollars in pledges, enough to begin work on a 3,389-mile route that would link Times Square in New York City with Lincoln Park in San Francisco. In 1913, using mainly a patchwork of existing roads, the route officially became the Lincoln Highway, dedicated to the memory of President Abraham Lincoln, and the Lincoln Highway Association was born.
Early travelers followed the route's mostly unpaved miles, guided by the road's red, white and blue striped logo, a blue "L" on the white stripe, which was painted on poles along the way. Construction continued for 15 years, with the LHA's emphasis changing to better roads made of concrete rather than gravel -- and realignments to shorten the route.
But a decision by the federal government in 1925 to eliminate named roads and replace them with numbered routes would spell the end for the Lincoln Highway as a national route.
At the end of 1927, the LHA ceased activity. In 1928, in a memorial to Abraham Lincoln and the road, the Boy Scouts marked the final, realigned coast-to-coast route with 2,436 concrete posts bearing small busts of the 16th president.
Last fall, my husband, Guy, and I decided to search for remnants of the original Lincoln Highway on a stretch of the back roads and modern highways that have replaced it. We chose Indiana, not just because this was where Fisher unveiled his plan, but also for other points of interest -- and scenery -- along the way.
Before we left, we sought advice from Gregory Franzwa, who grew up along the old road in Iowa. In 1992, he founded a new Lincoln Highway Association to preserve and restore what remains of the original Lincoln. Franzwa, author of numerous books about the Lincoln and publisher of the association's quarterly magazine, The Lincoln Highway Forum, suggested we follow the directions in the spring 2003 issue (see If You Go for how you can obtain).
"Take the original alignment that goes through South Bend," he told us. That route, which arcs north nearly to Michigan, is significantly different from a later route (still called the Lincoln Highway) that cut more directly across the state and follows what is now U.S. Highway 30.
We devoted three days to the trip, driving 154 miles from Dyer (on the state line just east of Chicago Heights) to Ft. Wayne.
In Dyer, on U.S. Highway 30, a historical marker commemorates the 11/2-mile Ideal Section of the old road, built in 1921 as a "model for road construction." The 40-foot-wide, four-lane road made of 10-inch, steel-reinforced concrete had a 100-foot right-of-way, underground drainage, lights, landscaping, bridge and pedestrian pathways. Half a mile farther, an ornate roadside bench honors Henry Ostermann, an officer in the first LHA who was killed on the Lincoln Highway in Iowa in 1920.
Continue east a few miles on U.S. 30 and, just past the intersection with U.S. Highway 41, turn right into the Walgreens parking lot -- where the Lincoln once ran. A plaque on the building recounts a historic transcontinental 62-day trip in 1919 by an Army truck convoy (speed limit through town: 8 m.p.h.); on that trip was Dwight Eisenhower, who as president in the 1950s was instrumental in launching the interstate highway program.
A piece of the original macadam pavement is displayed on the sidewalk below.
Back on U.S. 30 eastbound, watch on the left for a modern sign to the Old Lincoln Highway, and turn there for Schererville. Light posts through the quaint town, where quilt shops, restaurants and historic buildings abound, are hung with patriotic banners. You'll pass magnificent St. George Church, a Byzantine-style Serbian Orthodox church with five copper domes.
Over the next few miles the road name changes several times on the way to Merrillville. A local historical society runs a museum in a red brick former school in Merrillville (open Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m.)
The road then passes Deep River County Park and the 19th Century Wood's Historic Grist Mill (open May 1-Oct. 31). Wheat and corn are still ground here. The second floor displays a one-room school and general store, and the third floor has a museum with pioneer artifacts.
Just past a footbridge over the river is an old-fashioned field that's home to the Deep River Grinders -- a "vintage" baseball team. A sign reads: "Upon this field the game is played according to the original 33 rules of baseball adopted in 1858." (No one was playing this day, but we came back the following Sunday for a match with the St. Louis Unions that drew a hundred fans in a cold, drizzling rain for a very different version of the national pastime.)
Continue east on Joliet Road, turning left where the route rejoins U.S. 30, left again on Joliet Road, which "T's" into Indiana Highway 130, then right into bustling Valparaiso (you really do need those detailed directions to follow this).
Although about 15 of the original Boy Scout signs remain in Indiana, they were placed along the final 1928 route, so the only one on our route is here in downtown Valparaiso, one block west of the courthouse on Lincolnway West, where the 1913 and 1928 routes converge. (A new granite monument to the Lincoln was erected nearby on Lincoln's birthday this year.)
Leaving U.S. 30 and the last of the "new" Lincoln Highway behind (until we get to Ft. Wayne), we continue on Indiana Highway 2 northeast into Westville, once a railroad town where, a sign noted, the train bearing Lincoln's body home to Springfield, Ill., stopped briefly on May 1, 1865.
Farther on, in historic La Porte, we stop at the maple-shaded Sauk Trail Rest Park. The old Sauk Indian Trail crossed here, and pioneers used it later as a trading route.
Near Rolling Prairie, the route turns into U.S. Highway 20. In New Carlisle, we suggest a stop at The Inn at the Old Republic, a red brick Italianate built in 1860, which originally housed Carlisle Collegiate Institute and is now a B&B.
Outside New Carlisle on the left are the remains of the old Gresswick Tourist Camp, a stop for early travelers on the Lincoln. Rickety doors on broken hinges stand open to reveal splintered furniture within, but the camp, so evocative of the past, is worth a look.
Continue on U.S. 20 into South Bend, home to Notre Dame University and many other attractions. But it's the Studebaker National Museum that's especially pertinent to this trip.
Studebaker, which ceased auto production in 1966, originated as a blacksmith shop in 1852 by the Studebaker brothers, who soon began building wagons. By 1890, Studebaker Vehicle Works covered 98 acres and was the largest such firm in the world. Later, Studebaker was the only manufacturer to successfully switch from producing horse-drawn to gas-powered vehicles.
Among the first-rate collection of vehicles displayed here are presidential carriages owned by William McKinley, Benjamin Harrison, Ulysses Grant and Abraham Lincoln (the coach he rode in to Ford's Theatre the night of his assassination). Also here are the 1904 Model C (the oldest surviving gas-powered Studebaker), the 1919 Izzer (the last buggy made by the firm) and a gorgeous green Big Six Duplex Phaeton (Studebaker's top-of-the-line auto in 1926).
The route goes south on Main Street, then east on Monroe Street, which becomes Lincoln Way, continuing into Mishawaka -- a town of sumptuous Victorian homes and an elegant arched concrete bridge over the St. Joseph River.
Next is Elkhart, home to nearly three dozen RV manufacturers and the RV/MH Hall of Fame, Museum and Library, where a dozen or so antique motor homes and trailers are on display.
Lovely Goshen is next, with a stunning red brick courthouse, streets lined with ornate 19th Century buildings and, on one corner (Lincoln and Main), a creepy octagonal police shed built in 1939. Made of concrete, with seven gun ports and bulletproof glass, it was to "protect the Maple City [Goshen] from gangsters who might travel along The Old Transcontinental Lincoln Highway," a sign reads.
The old Lincoln continues through Benton to the remains of Log Cabin Camp, a quartet of old tourist cabins. Here the historic route follows U.S. Highway 33, then turns briefly onto County Road 148.
On to Ligonier, home to the Ligonier Tourist Camp in the Lincoln's early days. The town is now known for Indiana's Radio Museum -- and the last bit of brick Lincoln Highway in Indiana. Just south of town, you cross U.S. Highway 6 to reach the 1/5th-of-a-mile stretch (Old U.S. 33), which arcs off the newer road.
Stone's Tavern, built in 1839 and now a museum, is ahead. Chuck Sweeney of the Stone's Trace Historical Society was rebuilding a stone bake oven in preparation for the upcoming Pioneer Festival when we visited. Held the first weekend after Labor Day, the annual event attracts about 5,000 visitors and includes demonstrations of about two dozen 19th Century life skills, Sweeney told us.
The tavern, 3 miles south of Ligonier, housed travelers long before the Lincoln Highway came along. It had beds for 35 guests who paid 25 cents a night and closed just before the Civil War.
Tiny Kimmel, possibly the only U.S. town with a Hitler Street (named for a local farmer not the fuhrer) is next, followed by Wolflake, platted in 1832, then Merriam, where the Lincoln runs through a cemetery and past an intriguing if derelict windowless school that was new in 1914.
The next to the last stop on our drive is Churubusco, named for an 1847 Mexican War battle -- but also known as Turtle Town U.S.A. As we were driving around the town of 1,700, we stopped and asked a group of young people the reason for the nickname.
"It was for Oscar, a 200-pound snapping turtle that was first seen at Blue Lake here in the 1940s," one young man told us. "He appeared on and off for more than 50 years, the last time in 1994, and just sort of became the town mascot." A large fiberglass cartoon turtle at the entrance to the local park commemorates Oscar.
Six miles south of Churubusco on the left, we make our last stop for our last look at Lincoln Highway history on this route -- a rusty iron bridge, now overgrown with weeds and vines, that once carried Lincoln traffic.
Five miles farther, at Washington Center Road on the north edge of Ft. Wayne, our journey ends. Here the 1913 and 1928 alignments rejoin and continue east.
Our three days on the original Lincoln had been most enjoyable. To paraphrase an old quote: Folks who don't have time to stop and smell the roses travel the interstates; those with a sense of history drive the old roads.
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IF YOU GO
THE LINCOLN HIGHWAY
For nationwide routes and other information, go to the Web site of the Lincoln Highway Association: www.lincolnhighwayassoc.org.
For details on Lincoln Highway sites in Indiana: www.indiana lincolnhighway.com.
For our Indiana trip, we followed directions in the spring 2003 issue of The Lincoln Highway Forum. For that and other back issues ($7.50 each for non-members, $2 for members, plus postage): Lynn Asp, LHA Headquarters, P.O. Box 308, Franklin Grove, IL 61031; 815-456-3030; e-mail email@example.com.
For replicas of old signs and other Lincoln Highway memorabilia (including a reproduction of the 1928 Boy Scout marker, which sells for $455), go to www.lhtp.com.
ALONG THE WAY
Deep River County Park, 9410 Old Lincoln Highway, Hobart, IN 46342; 219-947-1958 or 800-GRISTMILL; www.lakecounty parks.org. The Deep River Grinders play "vintage" baseball on weekends from May through September; the 2007 schedule is available on the Web site.
Inn at the Old Republic, 304 E. Michigan St., New Carlisle, IN 46552; 574-654-3897; www.inn atoldrepublic.net. Tours of this historic building, which is now a bed-and-breakfast, are available 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday; while reservations are not required, call in advance to make sure someone will be there. Teas are held the second Wednesday of the month and require reservations.
Studebaker National Museum, 201 S. Chapin St., South Bend, IN 46601; 574-235-9714; www.studebakermuseum.org. Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday. Admission: $8 adults, $6.50 seniors (60-plus), $5 ages 6-17, free 5 and under.
The RV/MH Heritage Foundation Hall of Fame/Museum/Library, 21565 Executive Parkway, Elkhart, IN 46514; 800-378-8694; www.rv-mh-hall-of- fame.org. Open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Admission: $8 adults, $6 seniors (60-plus), $3 ages 6-16.
Indiana's Radio Museum, 800 Lincolnway S., Ligonier, IN 46767; 219-894-9000 or 888-417-3562; home.att.net/~indi anahistoricalradio/ihrp6mus.htm. Open 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday from May through October, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday November-April. Free admission.
Stone's Trace Historic Site, 4946 N. State Road 5 (3 miles south of Ligonier at the intersection of U.S. Highway 33/Indiana Highway 5); 260-856-2871; www.stonestrace.com. Stone's Tavern is open 1-4 p.m. Sunday from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend and other times by appointment. The 34th annual Stone's Trace Pioneer Festival will be held the first weekend after Labor Day, Sept. 8-9 this year.
--- Pamela Selbert