Thursday, June 6, 2013

Celebrating the Lincoln Highway's Centennial — And All the Backroads of America


There are many unique aspects about Highway 83 that makes it an interesting road to travel. One is all the fascinating history found along the way. But I would not call it a “historic road.” A historic road to my thinking is a highway that itself contributed to the development of the nation, or has a special place in its history.
I believe there are three main historic roads in America. One is the most famous of them all, U.S. Route 66. Another is the National Road, which was the first highway in the United States to receive federal funding in 1811 and took travelers over the Allegheny Mountains into the Ohio River Valley. Today Route 40 covers most of that old road.
The third is the Lincoln Highway, which became Highway 30 in most stretches, and was the nation’s first coast-to-coast road.
The latter will be gaining a whole lot of attention this summer as it reaches its 100th anniversary.
I hope someday Route 83 is as famous as Route 66. Okay. That is probably never going to happen. As an example, the Fans of U.S. Route 83 page I administer currently has 730 fans. The main Route 66 fanpage has more than 92,000! My long-term goal is to make it to 1,000 fans someday. There are businesses with Route 66 in their name that have 10 times that many fans.  
But I refuse to show any jealousy toward these other three roads. The Highway 83 Chronicles blog celebrates all the backroads, and encourages travelers to leave the interstates behind, explore small towns, spend your money at small businesses and restaurants, and stop your car to read historical markers—no matter where you are. A few weeks ago, I had a rare chance to travel solo to and from Pittsburgh from Arlington, Va., and I drove parts of the old National Road and Lincoln Highway in Pennsylvania.
Sad as it is to say, the bicentennial of the founding of the National Road in 1811 went unnoticed two years ago.
I hope the 100th anniversary of the Lincoln Highway will encourage people to both learn more about how our roads shaped the nation’s history, and to drive off the interstate ramps and explore what the author William Least Heat Moon called the “blue highways.”
Many communities along the old Lincoln Highway are going all out this summer to celebrate its centennial. Kearney, Nebr., which was the half-way point of the road at 1,733 miles from either coast, on June 30 will hold a parade. Two classic car convoys will converge on the city from both coasts. That will kick off one month of festivities in towns along the road.
Highway 83 intersects with what was once the Lincoln Highway in North Platte, Nebr. Today, the Lincoln Highway Diner is a few blocks west of the 83-30 intersection (Pictured below and left). Reproductions of the old Lincoln Highway markers went up last year.
One little known fact is that Highway 83 once went through Kearney, Neb., up until about the late 1930s. Present-day 83 was 183 for several hundred miles. Some bureaucrat in Washington decided that 83 should be the primary north-to-south road, and the numbers switched places from Vivian, S.D., to Highway 24 in Kansas. If the numbers hadn’t changed, that would have truly made Kearney the center of America with 83, the border-to-border highway, intersecting with the half-way point of the coast-to-coast highway.
Today, Highway 83 intersects with the nation’s main east-to-west road Interstate 80 in North Platte. The Union Pacific’s Bailey Yard, the nation’s largest railroad classification yard is also there. I would argue that this makes North Platte, “The Crossroads of America.”
(I hereby give the North Platte Chamber of Commerce permission to use this slogan.)
The creation of the Lincoln Highway was a first step in a long process that changed America in profound ways. While Highway 83 is not a “historic road,” its development also changed the communities found alongside it. I hope the new attention on the Lincoln Highway this summer sparks more interest in the history of roads in America.

To join the Fans of U.S. Route 83 group on Facebook, CLICK HERE. And check out the U.S. Route 83 Travel page at



Stew Magnuson (stewmag (a) is the author of Wounded Knee 1973: Still Bleeding: The American Indian Movement, the FBI, and their Fight to Bury the Sins of the Past published by the Now & Then Reader. It is available as an eBook on Kindle, Nook, Kobo and iTunes. Buy it in paperback on or bookstores such as Plains Trading Company Booksellers, in Valentine, Neb., on Highway 83.

No comments:

Post a Comment