Lincoln Highway Scenic and Historic Byway – NE

Details

  • DesignationNational Scenic Byway (2021)
  • Intrinsic QualitiesHistoric
  • LocationIA, IL, NE
  • Length450 of 1089 total miles
Byway Visitor Information
Visit Nebraska
Statewide Byway Partners
Downloadable Nebraska Byways Map
Visit Nebraska
Traveling along the brick road near Elkhorn
RNeibel Photo

Overview

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!

Local Byway Partners

Story of the Byway

Nebraska’s Lincoln Highway Scenic & Historic Byway traverses the entire length of Nebraska and offers travelers an eclectic inside look at Nebraskan transportation history as well as an abundance of natural attractions and dining options. The byway is a major stretch of America’s first transcontinental highway — the Lincoln Highway — and used to be known as the “Great Platte River Road.” The last stretch of the Lincoln Highway in the United States to be paved was in North Platte, NE in 1935. Before that, the route across the state was anything from paved streets in parts of Omaha to brick streets, gravel roads, and dirt paths elsewhere. The best roads at the time made up the rute, depending on the weather. Every community in its path benefited from the route, and tourist destinations sprung up across the state. From Kimball in the west to Omaha and Blair in the east, road travelers found unique attractions and accommodations. The Lincoln Highway era, 1913-1950s, was the heyday of flurry and activity on the Lincoln Highway before Interstate 80 took its place as the main thoroughfare through Nebraska in 1962.

Native Americans and fur traders who first began westward exploration, traveled along this deeply historical byway. The route was then frequented during America’s great westward migration, by Oregon and Mormon Trail pioneers, then by the Union Pacific Railroad, and finally by America’s first transcontinental highway – the Lincoln Highway. The modern-day lure of the byway resides in the presence and preservation of the small rural towns that developed along the route every six to twelve miles across the entire byway. Moreover, Nebraska’s contribution to the construction of the Lincoln Highway was extensive and the byway has preserved a handful of the original seedling miles of the nationally known highway.

In 1913, Central City became the first community in the nation to ratify the Lincoln Highway proclamation on the steps of the Merrick County courthouse, and today’s travelers can experience where this momentous occasion occurred. The original pavement of the seedling mile at Grand Island, which was the first in the state and the second in the nation, has been preserved and is marked with historical interpretive panels. The town of Fremont is home to the longest seedling mile in the country that stretches six miles, and it can still be driven on Highway 30 between Fremont and Ames. The last section of pavement on US Route 30 was completed just west of North Platte and was dedicated on November 6, 1935. Historical markers along the highway commemorate significant moments and accomplishments. In addition to the dozens of original 1928 concrete Lincoln Highway markers placed by the Boy Scouts, there are reproduction concrete markers and utility poles painted with iconic red, white, and blue “L” emblems.

The purpose of the Lincoln Highway Historic Byway is to promote and preserve the intrinsic scenic and historic qualities of the Lincoln Highway route through Nebraska. Driving across Nebraska on this byway today is a reminder of what the road was like. The communities along the route are embracing their Lincoln Highway past, with new renovations and restorations occurring each year. Many sites are right on Highway 30, and others are just a block or two away. Many yet-to-be restored locations also exist, adding interest to the journey.

Driving Directions

Known as U.S. Highway 30, the Lincoln Highway Scenic & Historic Byway is the only byway that crosses the entirety of Nebraska. From Omaha to Central City, the eastern region of the byway follows the Platte River valley with stunning views, birding opportunities, and water recreation. The central stretch of the byway contains the Lincoln Highway Visitors Center in Shelton and the original “stair steps” of the Lincoln Highway at Gothenburg. From the quaint town of Maxwell, NE to the western border of Nebraska, the western region of the byway offers beautiful scenery, historical markers, and a plethora of lodging and dining options along the way.

Points of Interest

  • Grand Island’s “seedling mile”

    The first seedling mile in the state and the second in the nation to be completed, and the original pavement at Grand Island has been preserved

  • Shelton Historical Interpretive Center and Lincoln Highway Center

    Visitor and history center located inside the historic 1909 Meisner Bank Building along a block of original Lincoln Highway bricks

  • Golden Spike Tower

    An elevated observation area for a spectacular view of the Union Pacific’s Bailey Yard, the largest railroad classification yard in the world

  • Fremont

    The longest seedling mile in the nation – six miles – can still be traversed on Highway 30 between Fremont and Ames

Itinerary

  • Where the West Begins

    Day 1

    Enter Nebraska from the east on Highway 30 at Blair NE from Iowa. Don’t be confused. A byway “loop” in Iowa will lead you to the Blair Missouri River crossing. Highway 30 was moved here years ago when the “new” Blair bridge was built. The original Highway 30 in Iowa turned southward and crossed the Missouri River at Council Bluffs/Omaha on West Broadway/I480. The Omaha crossing is a “loop” in Nebraska, but the main byway in Iowa. Take time to stop at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo before heading northward to catch the main byway at Fremont finding antique shops and air boat tours of the Platte River.

    In Columbus stop at Glur’s Tavern- the oldest tavern west of the Mississippi River and where many politicians seeking office and famous people like Buffalo Bill Cody have frequented. In Grand Island visit the Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer.

    Outside of Kearney, on I80, it is worth the drive to visit the Kearney Archway Museum that curves over the interstate and tells Nebraska’s history from the Oregon Trail to modern day. In Kearney enjoy stops at the Museum of Nebraska Art, Classic Car Collection (200 vintage autos), and the Seedling Mile. Spend the night here enjoying the brick streets, local pubs, and eateries. Kearney is the half-way point on the Times-Square-to-San-Francisco Lincoln Highway route.

    Day 2

    Leaving Kearney, head west to Gothenburg for the Sod House and Historical Museum or for a fun and challenging game of golf at the Wild Horse Golf Course. North Platte is in the heart of the Platte River Valley and is home to Buffalo Bill’s home, Scouts Rest Ranch. The Golden Spike Tower offers views of Bailey Yard where 150 trains pass through daily. Check out the Fort Cody Trading Post.

    Ogallala was the end of the 1870’s Texas Trail. Wild and wooly cowboys have left their mark here. Visit Boot Hill, the Mansion on the Hill, and the Petrified Wood Gallery. Lake McConaughy makes for a great summer stop for water fun. The restored Spruce Street Station takes you back to the days of full-service pumps and the open road.

    Sidney is the Gateway to the Nebraska High Plains. Stop at Fort Sidney Museum Complex, reliving the Black Hills Gold Rush days, and at the Pony Express Monument. The original Cabela’s store is near I80. Find a room for the night and visit the historical distract full of unique shops, pubs, and taverns. The next day will take you to Kimball and on to the Wyoming portion of the Lincoln Highway.

 Update this byway information today!