Lincoln Highway enthusiasts remember more than a highway across the country

By Karen MundyThe Press-News Published:

"Thanks to the interstate highway system, it is now possible to travel across the country from coast to coast without seeing anything. From the interstate, America is all steel guardrails and plastic signs, and every place looks and feels and sounds and smells like every other place." -- Charles Kuralt, On the Road with Charles Kuralt

Last week a large contingent of highway aficionados came to the Canton area for the 20th annual Lincoln Highway Conference. They also helped kick off the 100th year of the famous highway, which is America's first coast-to-coast road.

The younger generation may not understand the fascination with a road, but for many of us who traveled these roads before the interstate, we realize the memories of family vacations and trips, college days, visiting close friends and seeing life in the good old USA.

In those days, families stayed in motels and youngsters were thrilled when there was a pool out front. We stopped at restaurants that served open-faced, roast-beef sandwiches, with mashed potatoes, and, of course, a slice of apple pie ala mode for dessert. At gas stations, which were located in various little towns or in the cities, attendants pumped your gas, as well as cleaned your windshield and checked your oil.

Those were also the days when travelers really saw America, unlike when one travels on the interstates, as the late Kuralt so aptly commented in the above statement. Travel was a little slower driving through small towns, big cities and rural areas. If the town was having a parade-- you might as well stop and watch the festivities. If a football game was being held at the city's university, you might as well take a break from traveling and talk to the locals about who was playing that day. And, if cows or ducks were crossing the road, they had the right of way.

These are just a few of the reasons why the city of Canton saw people from throughout Ohio and as far away as California come to commemorate a road and its long history. According to information from The Lincoln Highway Association web site, Carl Fisher, who had the Indianapolis 500 built, was the same person who came up with the idea of a "coast-to-coast rock highway."

The site said the gravelled road would cost about $10 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.

Fisher went to the auto industry to seek funding, but Henry Ford refused. Frank Seiberling, president of Goodyear, and Henry Joy, president of the Packard Motor Car Company, however, agreed to help. Joy is also the person who came up with the idea of naming the route after President Abraham Lincoln.

That was how the highway came to be birthed, changing travel from trails for wagons to roads for automobiles. Some parts of the modern highways took the paths of historical trails such as the Oregon and Santa Fe trails.

The Lincoln Highway was the first push toward an interstate highway. It was a major turning point in highway history as it was the first continuous transcontinental highway. The highway was the predecessor of and the model for the later system of numbered highways.

While the named highways greatly aided travel, several problems arose with them. The lack of a central organization to dictate the placement of interstate highways left the door open for self-serving organizations to "relocate" the famous named roads so they would pass through their cities. More frequently, though, the lack of coordination between states through which the transcontinental routes ran caused confusion since the route was often not even straight. The need for a system of standardized interstate highways had evolved.

In some ways, Route 66 has taken the limelight away from the original east-west route in the United States. Nat King Cole sang about "getting your kicks on Route (root) 66." A 1960s television show, called Route 66, starred George Maharis and Martin Milner as young adventurers traveling the road in a Corvette.

However, PBS, in a documentary on the Lincoln Highway said "the Lincoln Highway is not Route 66. Instead of going from Chicago to L.A., (as Route 66 does), it traverses the country from New York City's Times Square to San Francisco. The Lincoln is 1,000 miles longer. And it predates the "Mother Road," (as Route 66 is called) by more than a decade."

The two famous routes actually intersect in Plainfield and Joliet, Ill.

Locally, the Lincoln Highway, U.S. Route 30, is one of the main east and west routes throughout East Canton, Robertsville and Minerva. According to the Ohio Department of Transportation, U.S. 30 is now a multi-lane divided and/or limited access highway roughly from the Indiana state line eastward to I-77 in Canton. The section east of I-77 in Canton is still under consideration for future improvements, and many meetings have been held in East Canton and Minerva urging ODOT to continue the construction of the road past East Canton and eventually into East Liverpool.

Business owners and local leaders say the large amount of industry and truck traffic along that section of the route are reasons to extend it into a multi-laned, divided highway. However, at a recent meeting in East Canton, ODOT officials said funding is not available at this time.

In the meantime, this part of U.S Route 30 from East Canton to East Liverpool and beyond continues to offer a scenic route that is a throwback to those times when travelers could experience more than on and off ramps and fast food while traveling the highways of the USA. They can see a slice of Americana, such as a couple of the orginal red brick roads in the East Canton and Robertsville area, that this past week brought visitors into the local area.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Some information for this story was taken from various web sites such as those of the Lincoln Highway, the Ohio Department of Transportation and History of the U.S. Highway System.

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  • Thanks for this really good article on the Lincoln! This kind of responsible writing makes our job easier to achieve our mission, and helps educate the innumerable people who simply do NOT know about the Lincoln Highway. Mike Hocker Ohio Lincoln Highway Director