Friday, October 10, 2014

Get your kicks on... the Lincoln Highway?

As a follow-up to our story on Jersey City's Lincoln Park, historian and Hidden New Jersey reader Jim Madden took to our Facebook page to remind us of yet another tribute to the 16th president that's just feet away. Keep your eyes open when you visit the Mystic Lincoln sculpture, and you'll see the red, white and blue signs that designate some of the park roads as the route of the Lincoln Highway.

A vintage Lincoln Highway marker,
as seen in the Smithsonian.
If your mind is going toward the Lincoln Highway in Highland Park, Edison or any number of other places in North or Central Jersey, you're on the right track. Those stretches of road were once part of the much larger Lincoln Highway, conceived by Indiana road enthusiast Carl Fisher in 1912 to run from New York City's Times Square to Lincoln Park in San Francisco. Like New Jersey's own George Blakeslee, Fisher saw the benefits of reliable, well-maintained roads for the nation's commerce and mobility. The privately-funded highway was to take in and improve a network of existing thoroughfares to create a direct transcontinental route. Promoting the road through the Lincoln Highway Association, Fisher hoped that contributions from automobile manufacturers and private citizens would find the improvement of the 3400-mile route.

If you try to follow the highway's original path through New Jersey these days, you get a good education in how roads and cities evolved to address the needs of a growing population. According to the website of the re-invigorated Lincoln Highway Association, travelers would take New York's 42nd Street west to a ferry, a necessary step more than two decades before the start of construction on the Lincoln Tunnel. Once across the Hudson in Weehawken, the highway coursed up the Palisades on Pershing Road, taking 49th Street to what was then Hudson County Boulevard into Jersey City and along the old Newark Plank Road through West Side Park, which was renamed Lincoln Park at the statue's installation in 1930. It traversed the Meadowlands along what's now Truck Route 1 and 9, well before the construction of the Pulaski Skyway.

Once in Newark, the road took already-congested city streets until it linked with current-day Route 27, which took it southwest through Elizabeth, Rahway, Edison, New Brunswick and Princeton. That portion of the highway has its roots in a road originally laid out by Dutch colonists as early as 1675. The southernmost section, now U.S. 206, brought the highway from Princeton through Trenton and into Pennsylvania. In the ensuing years, the route was adjusted several times to account for changing conditions, including the opening of the Holland Tunnel.

The Federal government got into the road business not long after World War I, endorsing Fisher's and Blakeslee's basic ideas but inadvertently ringing the death knell for the Lincoln Highway as the transcontinental route. Connecting towns and cities with reliable paved roads meant mobility, not just to transport goods from farm or factory to market, but for people to explore the country beyond their own community. While the Lincoln Highway was never fully completed from coast to coast, it paved the way for uniform long distance road standards and the eventual establishment of our interstate highway system.

In recent years, New Jersey's reinvigorated chapter of the Lincoln Highway Association has been placing commemorative markers on strategic points along the road's route. They're metal in Lincoln Park but at least one concrete post has been installed on Route 27 in Edison. Have you seen any?

1 comment:

  1. There is a Lincoln Highway concrete marker on Rt. 27 in Metuchen. You can spot it in front of the municipal building, next to the library.


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