Remembering the Lincoln Highway

Last weekend, my wife and I flew to Colorado for a family reunion. The flight—over the Sierra Nevada range, Utah, and the Rocky Mountains—took all of two and one-half hours. We landed in Denver, rested and ready to drive our rental car several additional hours.


Travel hasn't always been this easy. One of the most significant landmarks in the tortured history of transcontinental movement is the Lincoln Highway, a coast-to-coast road of thirty-four hundred miles that stretched from New York to San Francisco. Financed mainly by local communities, the mostly gravel highway passed through Stockton and about seven hundred other towns and cities in thirteen states.

The Lincoln Highway was the brainchild of Carl Fisher, an American visionary also responsible for creating the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and for turning the swampland around Miami Beach into one of the nation's best-known beach resorts. The name "Lincoln Highway" came from Henry Joy, the president of Packard Motor Company and a spokesman for the project, who suggested it because of its patriotic appeal.

The Lincoln Highway predated the better-known Route 66 by more than a decade. Traveling at the rate of twenty to thirty miles per hour, the typical speed of a Model T, a driver could span the Continent in twenty to thirty days. Two of the Highway's best-known travelers were Beat Generation poet and novelist Jack Kerouac and Dwight D. Eisenhower, who traced its course as part of an army convoy in 1919.

Two thousand thirteen marks the one hundredth birthday of the Lincoln Highway. Many communities in and around San Joaquin County—among them, Lathrop, Tracy, Mountain House, and French Camp—have recently installed commemorative signs along the route.

Will Stockton follow their lead? Kevin Shawver, a resident of Stockton and Lincoln Highway enthusiast, hopes it will. Shawver is spearheading a campaign to mark the road within the city with signs, and the San Joaquin County Historical Society Board of Trustees has voted its support.

"Not only does the historic route deserve recognition," reads a statement from the Society, "but we feel marking it will have positive economic impacts for businesses along the route and for Stockton as a whole."

Stockton's Historical Lincoln Highway Signage Project can be visited on Facebook. For additional information about the road, see the Lincoln Highway Association's Web site. Stockton Record columnist Michael Fitzgerald has written about the project in "The Driving Force Behind Historic Highway Effort."

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