PENNSYLVANIA Murals, exhibits mark the route of Lincoln Highway
There's a roadside museum along a historic highway.
STOYSTOWN, Pa. (AP) -- Owning a car can't be much fun when there's nowhere to drive.
But that was the case in 1913, when road conditions were often unsuitable for automobiles, prompting a call for the nation's first transcontinental highway.
So the Lincoln Highway was built, connecting New York City with San Francisco. Motorists will soon be able to learn more about the historic road as they drive a stretch running through Pennsylvania.
From historical markers to kitschy landmarks like a renovated coffeepot-shaped building near Bedford, the highway will be commemorated with 250 exhibits along a 200-mile stretch of U.S. Route 30 between Pittsburgh and Gettysburg.
Also featured are murals that detail the road's history, including a portrait of Amanda Preuss, credited as the first woman to make the cross-country car trip from San Francisco to New York City.
Nearly 70 exhibits will be unveiled Aug. 16, and the rest will follow in the next year.
"This is essentially an outdoor museum to highway history," said Kevin Patrick, a geography professor and Lincoln Highway authority from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. "By stretching out different components of this, it encourages people to enjoy the route exactly the way it should be enjoyed -- and that's by driving."
The roadside museum is run by Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor, a Ligonier-based nonprofit group dedicated to preserving Pennsylvania's leg of the highway.
The Lincoln Highway was the brainchild of Carl G. Fisher, an Indiana entrepreneur who sold bicycles until the motor car craze of the early 1900s, Patrick said. In 1913, Fisher helped launch a national campaign with other businessmen to build a $10 million coast-to-coast gravel highway to boost the automotive industry, including Prest-O-Lite, the automobile headlamp company he owned.
Although Fisher greatly underestimated the cost of the venture, Congress passed federal highway legislation to make the road and others like it a reality, Patrick said.
The public bought into Fisher's patriotic sales pitch that Americans had a duty to build a transcontinental highway so cars could do in the 20th century what trains did in the 19th century.
"They knew that towns lived and died by whether they were on the railroad or not, so they figured the same would be true for highways," Patrick said.
The highway begins in Times Square in New York City and extends through New Jersey, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and California.
The approximate route using current highways is U.S. Route 1 south from New York to Philadelphia; U.S. 30 west to Granger, Wyo.; Interstate 80 west to Wendover, Nev.; U.S. Route 50 west to I-80 near Reno, Nev.; I-80 west to Sacramento; Interstate 5 south to Tracy, Calif.; Interstate 580 west to Oakland, Calif; I-80 west to San Francisco.
The route has varied over the years. As shorter, better paved routes were built through or around some cities along the highway, the newer roads were incorporated into it.
Pennsylvania's Lincoln Highway experience was unique because just after the road came into its prime in some states -- the last stretch to be paved was in Nebraska in the 1930s -- the competing Pennsylvania Turnpike opened in the 1940s, Patrick said. The turnpike drew traffic from the highway and signaled its eventual decline in the Keystone State.
Former Gov. Tom Ridge designated the heritage corridor in 1995, and the group has used nearly $500,000 in state and federal funds for the roadside museum initiative. Most of the exhibits sit on private property, so landowners had to be persuaded to let the heritage group use the land and maintain the exhibits for 10 years, said Olga Herbert, executive director of the heritage corridor.
Thelma Yaste, 73, said she wondered at first about turning the family's barn in Somerset County into an artist's canvas as part of the exhibit. But Yaste and two sisters are proud of the Preuss portrait, located near the junction of Routes 30 and 219.
"There are a lot of tourists, they go by -- you can see their luggage on the car -- and they'll turn around and come back and take pictures," Yaste said. "Where else can you get a fine piece of art with history on your property? It's unreal, you know?"
Yaste's sister, Marlene Gindlesperger, said the mural, which also features a picture of Henry Ford and an early automobile, has been history lesson for her.
"All I knew about it before was it was a well-traveled highway. I never liked history, but I think this is pretty neat," Gindlesperger said.
In downtown Everett, just off Route 30 along the original highway route, local hero Chester Karns and the automobile he pioneered, the Karns Kar, are depicted.
"Legend has it he raced to the patent office against Henry Ford and we know how that race turned out," Herbert said. "Chester wasn't fast enough."