Books and Beyond

In the Weekender Independent June 16-17, I read that in 1858, on the date June 16, Abraham Lincoln, accepting the Illinois Republicans’ nomination for the U.S. Senate, said that the slavery issue had to be resolved: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Reading this was especially meaningful for me. I was and am still reading “The Lincoln Highway: Main Street across America,” by Drake Hokanson. This highway was named after Abraham Lincoln.

Of course every year we hear The Gettysburg Address (given in 1863) and never tire of it. The attention given to the Lincoln Highway in the early 1900s had many aspects, and one of them was patriotic.

I consider this book a coffee table book. It is 159 pages divided into 11 chapters. There are sections of black and white photographs from the 12 states the Highway went through, and also photos within chapter pages. I’ve spent much time with picture pages for Tama, Iowa, since I grew up about 15 miles from there, near Marshalltown. Most people in central Iowa knew this road as Highway 30.

Iowa is given as one of the most troublesome states to drive through in the early days because of the mud: “… a mudhole extended from Illinois to Wyoming” (p. 30). I have the 10th anniversary edition of the book, published by the University of Iowa Press in 1999.

Following the route of this highway from east to west takes you through many different landscapes. Mountains in the west were troublesome. You had to stop and get water before you drove across the Salt Lake Desert. Two ways to remember the route: the highway sometimes followed rivers and more often the railroad. Nebraska is a good example. In the early years of the highway, it followed a “zig zag” course in the Platte River Valley, but in the 1920s it was moved to be closer to the Union Pacific Railroad.

The official year most often given for the opening of the Lincoln Highway is 1915, although many changes in the quality of the road, where it went, and whose money supported it changed for several years. Iowa in 1922 had only five percent of the total mileage paved. There is still a Lincoln Highway Association, which met in Detroit, MI, when this book was published. This Association has an online site with lots of information.

Here’s a quote describing the power of the Highway in 1920: “… the motor car became a part of everyone’s world as it wrought more changes on the fabric of American life than any single device, idea, or institution before or since” (p. 105).

We read a lot of history in the book. People wanted to travel from the East Coast to the West Coast in the late 1800s. California became a state in 1850, and this drew people west.. It was 1903 when the first trip in an automobile took place, and it took 65 days to drive from San Francisco to New York. Before that year, people traveled this route by railroad. Before that they went by horse and stagecoach.

There is a two-page map of the Highway at the beginning of the book, and when the reader gets so many facts and ideas her head is spinning, she goes to this map, which shows the route through New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and California. It began at Times Square in New York City and ended in Lincoln Park, San Francisco. People usually think of it as an east to west highway, because that’s the direction our country became populated. The map shows the 1915 Lincoln Highway route, later and alternate routes for the highway, and Interstate 80.

Other pages I keep returning to are the quotations here and there throughout the book. One quote is from E.B. White’s essay “Farewell My Lovely.” My Lovely refers to the Model T. “As a vehicle, it was hardworking, commonplace, heroic; and it often seemed to transmit those qualities to the persons who rode in it.” The quote is on an unnumbered page with a picture of a gas station in Shelton, NE.

The author gives two places where in 1999 you could see what the original highway looked like: Elkhorn, Neb., and Tama, Iowa.

While I was reading this book, I read Ron Skjong’s Cheers column in the June 20 Independent. It’s 2018 and thank goodness we have people still enjoying the history and geography they encounter as they travel. These travelers go 200 miles from the Marshall area to Red Wing. As they get close to Red Wing, they leave open prairie and are in “that sudden dip into the Mississippi River Valley and you are surrounded by hills, forests, gulleys and scenic views” (p. 8A). Before Skjong gets to his wine recommendations, he tells us about the shoe shop, the Veranda Restaurant, and the Red Wing Brewery. This column seemed like an echo of place descriptions in “The Lincoln Highway.” I’m ready to drive that west to east trip in Minnesota again and take some pictures.

Summer does bring us more opportunities for travel, which leads to exploration of geography, history, place names, and people.

Back to my book “The Lincoln Highway.” It’s available from MNLink Gateway, your statewide library service, and many other books about this highway and other routes across our country are available at your local library.