Lincoln Highway – IL
- DesignationNational Scenic Byway (2000)
- Intrinsic QualitiesHistoric
- LocationIL, IA, NE
- Length179 of 1089 total miles
The Lincoln Highway was the first improved transcontinental road in the nation, traveling from Times Square in New York City to Lincoln Park in San Francisco, California. The route travels through 13 states and is a National Scenic Byway in the states of Illinois, Iowa, and Nebraska. In western Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana it is a state byway. The route continues today in New York, New Jersey, West Virginia, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and California but is not a named byway.
Carl Fisher, the owner of the Prest-o-lite (headlight) Company envisioned a “Coast-to-Coast Rock Highway.” As he sold almost all the headlights required by Detroit’s automakers, he was well-connected and presented his idea at a dinner party in 1912. In 1913, the Lincoln Highway Association was formed to designate the route across the nation, fundraise, and promote the road. Falling short of funds to pave the entire route, “seedling” miles in each state were poured to show what a good road would look like in hopes that the LHA’s grass-roots organization would lead to local efforts for improvements.
The road was named as a memorial to President Abraham Lincoln, as the memorial in Washington, D.C. had not yet been built. This historic road allowed Americans and visitors to see the country as never before. It has been said that this road created the family vacation!
Story of the Byway
Carl Fisher was the idea man behind the Lincoln Highway which he first called the “Coast-to-Coast Rock Highway.” With the help of automakers, especially Henry B. Joy, the president of the Packard Motor Car Company, the idea developed, and fundraising began in earnest. The route was renamed as a tribute to President Abraham Lincoln (thus was before the Lincoln Memorial was built in Washington, D.C.) Falling short of the millions it would take to pave the entire route across the nation, the Lincoln Highway Association decided instead to install “seedling” miles in each of the 13 states the route connected. By paving a one-mile section at least 6 miles from a town, locals would see the benefits of paved roads and fund the paving themselves. Illinois was the first state to have a seedling mile. As the Lincoln Highway developed, many gas stations, repair shops, cabin courts, motels, and eateries popped up along the route to aid the weary and hungry traveler. Many of these structures have been restored to their former glory and many have been repurposed as homes, businesses, or museums. After being named a National Scenic Byway in 2000, the Illinois Lincoln Highway Coalition (now dissolved) produced 5 Interpretive murals and 16 Interactive Gazebos across the Illinois portion of the Lincoln Highway that tell of early roadbuilding, auto travel, and Illinois History. Allow plenty of time to stop and learn more about this historic road.
In Northern Illinois near Sauk Village, take Highway 30 from the Indiana border westward to Geneva and continues to Highway 38. Near Dixon, the route become Highway 2. At Sterling, it reconnects with Highway 30 and continues to Iowa and the Mississippi River.
Points of Interest
Malta’s Seedling Mile
The first “Seedling Mile” on America’s Lincoln Highway. Marker at Kishwaukee College.
The headquarters and museum for the re-formed Lincoln Highway Association (1992), a national group that promotes the Lincoln Highway and its history.
Lincoln’s Great Speech Marker (Dixon)
Marker at Lee County Courthouse commemorating Lincoln’s Great Speech given July 17, 1858.
Location of the original bridge crossing the Mississippi into Lyons, Iowa on the Lyons-Fulton Bridge. Replaced with the Mark N. Norris Bridge. Lyons is now the northern portion of Clinton, Iowa.
Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie
Established in 1996, features tallgrass prairie and a herd of bison.
Lowden-Miller State Forest
2,291acres with camping, fishing, hunting opportunities.
Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge
Wildlife refuge featuring hunting, fishing, and canoe trails in the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa.
Lincoln Highway- Making History Since 1913
This historic route in Illinois begins at the Illinois/Indiana border on Highway 30. The route was determined in 1913 and over time, as roads improved, the alignment has changed. At one time the route went into Chicago, but the route that has remained over time is Highway 30. You will drive through large and small cities and see America’s Heartland. Check out the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie just south of Joliet, where you will find a herd of buffalo and 30 miles of trails through tall prairie grass.
Be sure to stop in Malta to see the Lincoln Highway Association’s first “Seedling Mile” in the nation- a one-mile paved section of road to show locals what good roads looked like and how it would improve travel. This association was formed in 1913 and promoted the Lincoln Highway, making it a household name. A MUST stop is in Franklin Grove at the Lincoln Highway Association’s National Headquarters. To the north of town is the Lowden-Miller State Forest, a great place to camp and hunt. Early motorists would just pull off to the side of the road and spend the night before designated campgrounds existed. Another great stop is in Dixon at the Lee County Courthouse to see Lincoln’s Great Speech Marker. This byway and Illinois have ties to President Abraham Lincoln as the road was named as a tribute to him prior to the Lincoln Memorial and Lincoln was born in Illinois. All along the byway, you will find murals about the Lincoln Highway and gazebos with interpretive panels. Do you see any ghost Lincoln Highway red-white-and-blue logo painted on poles, rocks, and fence posts that should the early traveler the way?
The byway ends as you cross the Mississippi River into Iowa from Fulton, Illinois. The area is great for watching barges, the lock and dam system, and wildlife. The Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge covers 240,000 acres from Wabasha, MN to Rock Island, IL. and offers much outdoor recreation.
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