First Interstate Highway

The Lincoln Highway, completed in 1923 after ten years of planning and construction, was the first highway to connect the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean.  The Lincoln Highway is over 3,300 miles long goes through the 13 states of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming,  Utah, Nevada, and California.

The Lincoln Highway started in Times Square, New York City,  and ended in Lincoln Park in San Francisco. Along the way, it passed through 128 counties and  700 cities and towns. There were improvements and realignments over the years, and the Lincoln Highway  became known as “The Main Street Across America”.

Most of the Lincoln Highway became known as U.S. Route 30. Out East it became  US Route 1 and out West it was called US Route 40 and US Route 50. The stretch across Nevada is often referred to as “the loneliest road in America”.

Today’s Interstate 80 is the roadway closely paralleling the Lincoln Highway. In Wyoming,  I-80 was poured on top of the Lincoln Highway.

Our modern Interstate system was inspired by President Eisenhower. As an army  lieutenant colonel,  Dwight  D. Eisenhower was part of the 1919 Army Convoy on the Lincoln Highway.  In his report he notes that in Nebraska,  they “covered 30 miles in 10 grueling hours”.  Perhaps it was his 1919 experience combined with his observation of the German autobahn system after WWII,  that inspired him to sign the historic 1956 highway bill, creating the Highway Trust Fund, and authorizing the building of the Interstate system.  President  Eisenhower, from a military standpoint,  recognized the need to quickly move large quantities of men and material across country.

There were two Lincoln Highway routes across the Sierra Nevada Mountains. One goes south of Lake Tahoe following US Route 50 and the other goes north of Lake Tahoe, on US Route 50 Alternate, near Sparks, Reno, Truckee, and I-80 over Donner Pass.

The Donner Party was caught in a 1846 snowstorm on the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Of the 87 emigrants, 30 perished and some of the 48 that survived did so by resorting to cannibalism,

Portions of the Lincoln Highway were built on historic roads. Sections follow the Mormon trail. Segments through Indiana are on an ancient Indian trail, the “Great Sauk Trail”.   Some tracts are on the Cherokee Trail, the Overland Trail and the route of the Pony Express.

In June 1863, Robert  E. Lee  took his Army of Northern Virginia across the Potomac River near Hagerstown, Maryland and up into Pennsylvania.  South Mountain, a northern section of the Blue Ridge Mountains,  screened his movements. Major elements of his Confederate Army turned east at Chambersburg, Pennsylvania and moved toward Gettysburg. The Lincoln Highway was built on that Chambersburg Turnpike.

Much history is connected with the Lincoln Highway. In June 2013, the Lincoln Highway Association will celebrate the 100th anniversary with a Centennial Tour, some starting from the East and some from the West, and they will meet on July 1 at Kearney, Nebraska at the Great Platte River Road Museum.


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