I’ve been meaning to check back in with Cece Otto, who is currently singing her way west during her American Songline concert tour, en route to the western terminus of the Lincoln Highway in San Francisco. She recently participated in the road’s big centennial celebration in Kearney, Nebraska, but I’m going to pick up where we left off during our day trip along the Lincoln Highway in western Pennsylvania back in May. I’ve been following my new friend via her social media accounts and it looks like she’s been meeting some wonderful people, seeing some amazing historical sites and really getting to know the Father Road. I hope she continues to have a safe trip across the country, and it sounds like she is, save a temporarily broken trunk at the beginning of her trip, intermittent internet access, some recent flooding that prevented her from driving along an original portion of the Lincoln in Iowa and feeling under the weather lately.
Back to Pennsylvania we go! Luckily we had no inconveniences or disasters during our Saturday together. As I mentioned in my previous post, we stopped in the beautiful town of Ligonier for some refreshments at the Ligonier Tavern and checked out the Lincoln Highway photo show at the Ligonier Valley Library, Cece and I headed east out of town up to Stoystown, which is about 20 miles east. I had never been past Laughlintown and Cece had missed a few roadside attractions on her way through a few days earlier, so we thought that would be a nice drive.
One of my favorite things to point out about Ligonier is that the town literally sits along the Lincoln Highway, which was only one of multiple historic routes that passed through town throughout its history. In the beginning, the Lincoln Highway was a connection of pre-existing roads from New York City to San Francisco. Across Pennsylvania, the Lincoln Highway generally followed the path of the Philadelphia-Pittsburgh Turnpike, which was actually a string of turnpikes across the state; one of these was called the Greensburg-Stoystown Turnpike, which is what passed through Ligonier. Pre-dating the turnpike was the Old State Road (also known as the 1794 Road). Before that, in the mid-eighteenth century, the Forbes Road cut through the valley. It is simply amazing how many layers of road history can be found here.
Anyways, the Lincoln Highway cuts right through the center of Ligonier and is now known as East and West Main Streets until it splits off a little further east out of town. Once you get past Ligonier’s town square, known as the Diamond, you’ll come to a spur at St. Clair Grove (a small park named after Revolutionary War Major General Arthur St. Clair) where East Main Street splits and continues right down to Route 30 and the Lincoln Highway heads left. The windy, narrow Lincoln ascends and descends a hill, eventually meeting back up with Route 30. One neat attraction that can been seen from the lofty height of that hill is Ligonier Beach, which boasts one of the country’s largest swimming pools and has been in operation since 1925. You can see the whole pool from atop that hill.
Between Ligonier and Stoystown, a good deal of the highway in this area is generally what is now designated as Route 30, with a few jogs off the main thoroughfare along a two-lane road through picturesque countryside that Cece directed me to follow as we motored east. Consulting the Lincoln Highway Association’s interactive map once again, it looks like we only missed a couple sections – one section in Laughlintown that was not drivable and another small section of originally paved located on private property. Dating back to 1797, Laughlintown is the oldest town in the Ligonier Valley and was named after Robert Laughlin, who was allegedly a blacksmith on the Forbes Campaign, according to my friend Shirley Iscrupe. It was the considered the main until Ligonier developed and usurped that claim. The Compass Inn Museum and the Laughlintown Pie Shoppe are notable places in this area. The Ligonier Valley Historical Society is also located in Laughlintown.
We climbed the Laurel Ridge until we reached the highest elevation (2,684 feet above sea level) and coasted back down the other side of the mountain. This was really a beautiful stretch of road and I only wish we had more time to go farther. Taking the time to study the Lincoln Highway by actually traveling gave me a good exposure to one of the Ligonier Highway Heritage Corridor’s initiatives: a roadside museum along the approximately 200 miles of Lincoln Highway that it maintains throughout Pennsylvania stretching from Adams County to Westmoreland County. The roadside museum features site markers, wall plaques, interpretive waysides and murals at various points along or near the original route of the Lincoln. It also includes 22 vintage 1940s-style gas pumps that Pennsylvania artists were commissioned to repaint in various themes. Click here for a great guide to all the exhibits along the way.
We stopped a few times along the way to check out some of the roadside museum, which included an enormous barn mural and a “bicycle built for two” roadside giant, both located east of the small borough of Jennerstown, which is now notable as the home of the Jennerstown Speedway and Mountain Playhouse (the latter we stopped at during our return drive). A village originally named Laurel Hill existed there as early as 1818, according to surviving deeds, and served as a stagecoach stop along the Forbes Road. Later, the town was renamed after English physician Dr. Edward Jenner, who is credited with discovering the smallpox vaccine. Jennerstown was incorporated as a borough in 1874 and officially laid out and deeded in 1882.
Finally we arrived in Stoystown, another historic road town along the Lincoln Highway dating back to at least 1820 or earlier. Route 30 bypasses this town, so here was another instance where we had leave the highway and follow the main road through town in order to keep on the original Lincoln Highway. Because we were driving east, we were able to spot a wonderful mural painted on the side of a hardware store that Cece missed the first time passing through. Thanks to a picture at the Ligonier Valley Library, we knew to look for an orange “Trust Worthy” sign jutting out from the front of the building. We felt very victorious finding this seemingly elusive mural, which was paired with a gas pump. If you pass through the area, check out the borough’s national historic district, the Hite House (a historic hotel dating back to 1853) and a 1928 Lincoln Highway concrete marker at the eastern end of town.
We had plenty of daylight left to hit a few more Lincoln Highway exhibits on our return trip west…