Lincoln Highway Gumshoes: To Bedford and Back

Check out the beautiful peaks and valleys along the Seven Mile Stretch of the Lincoln Highway! (Photo by Jennifer Sopko)

Check out the beautiful peaks and valleys along the Seven Mile Stretch of the Lincoln Highway in Pennsylvania! (Photo by Jennifer Sopko)

For my birthday I decided that wanted to take a road trip that somehow incorporated the Lincoln Highway.  I’ve really enjoyed learning more about the country’s first transcontinental highway throughout its centennial year.  After all, it passes right through the town of Ligonier, where I’ve spent a lot of time and where most of my published works are based.  In addition, I actually grew up near the Lincoln Highway, in White Oak, PA. The main road through the borough – Lincoln Way – was deliberately named in order to attract travelers off the real Lincoln Highway into McKeesport.

Well, I needed to pick a destination for our ramblings, so I thought it would be neat to spend a night in historic Bedford, Pennsylvania.  I had heard wonderful things about the town and county and I’ve passed signs and the exit for it on the PA Turnpike many a time, but never made a venture there before.  Originally known as Raystown, Bedford was incorporated around 1751, prior to the French and Indian War.  It was the site of what was later named Fort Bedford,  one of four fortified supply posts along the Forbes Road constructed across Pennsylvania – Great Britain’s 1758 campaign to capture Fort Duquesne from the French. Among other attractions, Bedford also boasts the Old Bedford Village (an 18th century living history village) and more than a dozen rare and scenic covered bridges.

To get to Bedford, I wanted to follow the original 1913 route of the Lincoln Highway.  So Dave and I spent last weekend as Lincoln Highway gumshoes, following the road east, from Greensburg to Bedford, and back.  I figured that was just far enough to allow us to take our time exploring the road with no strict timetable. I literally was a gumshoe, as I ended up stepping in gum at Grand View Point, checking out the site of the lost Ship Hotel. The one piece of gum on the ground and I found it!  Argh.

On Saturday morning we left armed with three of Brian Butko’s Lincoln Highway books (the PA traveler’s guide was invaluable), some screen shots of the Lincoln Highway Association’s interactive map (thank you for the tip, Brian!) and some recommendations from Brian and my pal Cece Otto.  I think we were pretty successful finding most if not all of the accessible sections of the 1913 route, plus some great attractions along the way, although we couldn’t hit everything, so we have some unfinished business to take care of next trip.

Dave was a great sport the whole time, hitting the brakes and turning the car around whenever we passed a turn-off, helping decipher maps and instructions and risking poison ivy while searching the roadsides for hidden history and lost sections of the road.   I think he appreciated seeing all of this history with his own eyes.

You can follow our drive using the LHA’s interactive map and learn a bit more about the portion between Greensburg and Stoystown in my previous posts about the Lincoln (here, here and here).  Here I’ll just highlight some of this past weekend’s adventure. Make sure to check out the captions for each photo.

There are so many great attractions along the Pennsylvania leg of the Lincoln Highway: historic buildings and sites; roadhouses and taverns offering delicious food; kitschy shops; murals, gas pumps and roadside giants of the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor’s 200-mile Roadside Museum; and the sites of things and places that used to be. We enjoyed a few must-see places along the way:

I think the coolest part of the trip was following the Lincoln Highway onto side roads that veer off of Route 30 and tracking down defunct sections that are no longer drivable.   Several things helped us confirm that we were indeed following the route: the interactive map, Brian’s descriptions and clues such as road signs (for “Lincoln Highway,” “Old Route 30,” Old Lincoln Highway”), businesses with “Lincoln” in their names, the telltale path of telephone poles which usually indicate a former roadway, and traces of the roadbed still detectable beneath the grass.

We stayed at the 1940’s-era Lincoln Motor Court, located about five miles west of Bedford in Manns’ Choice, as Cece recommended.  It was awesome!  Bob and Debbie Altzier and their family have owned the Lincoln Motor Court since 1983.  Long before that it had served many travelers along the Lincoln Highway as a tourist cabin court.  Today it’s the only one of its kind still in operation on the Lincoln.  Our cottage (one of twelve) was quaint and comfortable and we would definitely stay there again.

We drove through downtown Bedford on Saturday afternoon into evening.  The main street through town, Pitt Street, is the Lincoln Highway – Route 30 actually bypasses the town.  What a charming town, filled with beautiful and historic buildings and attractions!  We had dinner at the Jean Bonnet Tavern, which dates back to 1762 and sits at the intersection of two important roads: The 1758 Forbes Road and the 1755 Burd Road (later incorporated into the Glade Road in 1772). Here are a few cool things we saw as we passed through:

We took a detour off the Lincoln Highway to have Sunday brunch at the historic Bedford Springs Resort, now known as the Omni Bedford Springs Resort & Spa, which dates back to the early nineteenth century.  Dr. John Anderson began construction on the hotel in 1804 and it grew from there to serve the many people who were coming to Bedford to benefit from the medicinal properties of several mineral springs in the area, including several U.S. presidents and numerous prominent businessmen and ladies of society.  After a massive $120 billion renovation, the resort reopened a few years ago after being closed for years.

It was also fun trying to spot some history Easter eggs along the way. We saw three original concrete markers that the Boy Scouts of America installed along the Lincoln Highway in 1928 – in Ligonier, Stoystown and near the crossroads of the 1758 Forbes Road  and 1755 Burd Road (later Glade Road) in Bedford (intersection of Route 30 and Route 31). Because the Lincoln Highway, as America’s first transcontinental road, was comprised of already existing roads through the country like the ones just mentioned, we can also find traces of those roads.  Through Pennsylvania the Lincoln generally follows earlier roads includes the Pittsburgh-Philadelphia Turnpike (it was actually a string of turnpikes that stretched across the state), the Pennsylvania Road and the Forbes Road.  We were able to find the locations of four circa 1818 markers from the Bedford-Stoystown Turnpike, thanks to Brian’s traveler’s guide; two of them on the Lincoln Highway and the two other are located on Route 30 where it diverges from the Lincoln.  However, we sadly discovered that one is no longer there – only the base of the marker remains. Was it accidentally hit and demolished by a passing car? Or was it deliberately stolen (and sold)? If it’s the latter, I’m not only sad, I’m also angry. Part of that marker’s historical significance is the spot where it is located and to remove it from there is just reprehensible.

Well, it was a jam-packed weekend traveling along the Lincoln Highway.  I hope to get back out there again to explore additional sections of the road. This has just been a fun experience learning about this important road this past year.  I have much respect for those highway historians and artists out there that have traveled this road extensively and solo.  I couldn’t have followed the road as diligently as we did without having Dave along or my friends’ advice and I thank everyone for your help! Readers, if there’s anything we may have missed that you suggest we check out in this area, or what we should look out for on future trips east and west, leave me a comment below!

Along the Lincoln Highway with American Songline: Leg #3 –Stoystown Back to Greensburg

I’m gearing up for an upcoming trip back along the Lincoln Highway to Bedford, Pennsylvania, but before I do that, I should get us back to home base first…

After American Songline’s Cece Otto and I reached our final destination in Stoystown, Pennsylvania during our mini road trip this past spring, we turned around and retraced our steps back to Greensburg.  We had plenty of daylight left and wanted to check out a few more attractions along the Lincoln Highway Roadside Museum as we drove west. When we reached the stop light in Jennerstown (the lone stop light!), we made a right at the intersection onto Somerset Pike/Route 985, and stopped down the road at the Mountain Playhouse and Green Gables Restaurant to check out another vintage gas pump.

I love the vivid colors on this gas pumI love the vivid colors on this gas pump, located at the Mountain Playhouse and Green Gables Restaurant in Jennerstown, PA! (Photo by Jennifer Sopko)

I love the vivid colors on this gas pump, located at the Mountain Playhouse and Green Gables Restaurant in Jennerstown, PA! (Photo by Jennifer Sopko)

There’s a lot of history in these two places, both founded by farmer James Stoughton.  The Green Gables Restaurant started out as a roadside sandwich stand in 1927. Little by little, Stoughton and his sister, Louise Maust, gradually expanded the humble establishment.  In order to attract more business to the restaurant, Stoughton added the Mountain Playhouse next door. Not only is the Mountain Playhouse home to one of only 12 professional summer stock theater companies in America, it’s also Pennsylvania’s oldest professional summer stock theater.  The theater is actually an abandoned gristmill dating back to 1805 that was originally located in Roxbury, Somerset County.  Stoughton had it moved to its present site in Jennerstown in 1938.

As the playhouse grew in popularity after World War II, Stoughton kept improving and expanding Green Gables. The restaurant even kindled a romance between Stoughton and the architect he hired to design the main banquet room, which features timber and stone from local barns as well as four oak tree trunks from Stoughton’s mother’s family farm. Beautiful works of arts are also sprinkled throughout the restaurant and around the grounds. The Mountain Playhouse continues to feature Broadway-quality productions every season.

Moving on, Cece and I continued west out of Jennerstown, up and down Laurel Summit, through Laughlintown and back through the center of Ligonier. Basically we retraced our earlier journey east, which you can read about here and here, with a few exceptions. At the eastern end of Ligonier, we were able to take a portion of the original Lincoln Highway we could not access traveling east.  Instead of merging onto Route 30 (the Lincoln was later realigned here), we followed Old Route 30 bearing to the right past the Loyalhanna Watershed Association in order to continue along the 1913 route.

This is another scenic little stretch of road, climbing up the hill and winding down through an expansive farm field.  The road runs parallel to the Route 30 bypass (with a lake on the south side) and passes by the former site of Shirey’s Lake View Motel (a tourist cabin court), the Colonial Inn (which closed not too long ago… sadly before my friend Rose and I got to try their famous mushroom soup) and a pretty little lake around which you can see ducks and geese.  Rose and I actually had dinner with some of these guys one night at the Colonial Inn (sans mushroom soup).

Students at Eastern Westmoreland Career and Technology Center in Latrobe, PA designed and built this Lincoln Highway Roadside Giant in Ligonier. It's huge!  (Photo by Jennifer Sopko)

Students at Eastern Westmoreland Career and Technology Center in Latrobe, PA designed and built this Lincoln Highway Roadside Giant in Ligonier. It’s huge! (Photo by Jennifer Sopko)

Anyways, eventually Cece and I were forced to get back onto Route 30.  You can actually see a portion of the old road heading up into the hills but it’s on private property.  I’m not quite sure how much of the road still exists up in there.  The original Lincoln would have crested the hill and come back, joining up again around where another Roadside Giant sits near the former site of Donato’s Gas Station, at the intersection with Route 259.  This is my favorite of the Roadside Giants I’ve seen so far: a 25-foot-tall replica of a 1940s Bennett gas pump.  We got a couple beeps from passing motorists while we took pictures from various angles.

This pump is located along Route 30 West at the entrance to the Timberlinks Golf Course, across from Idlewild Park. (Photo by Jennifer Sopko)

This pump is located along Route 30 West at the entrance to the Timberlinks Golf Course, across from Idlewild Park. (Photo by Jennifer Sopko)

We continued along Route 30 westbound, which is still the Lincoln Highway for a brief stretch past Idlewild Park.  We stopped at the Timberlinks Golf Course to check out a weather beaten, carousel-themed gas pump. The golf course is closed (it was a bit tricky to pull my car in and turn around) and the gas pump looks like it has been forgotten.  A little further down, where the lanes of Route 30 split on either side of the Loyalhanna Creek, is where the Lincoln highway becomes the eastbound lanes, which we followed earlier that day.  So we were forced to continue on the Route 30 bypass, which was built atop the former roadbed of the Ligonier Valley Rail Road as it passed through the gorge.

To continue along the Lincoln Highway, before we reached Latrobe, we took an exit off of Route 30 to Youngstown and followed Main Street heading west.  Main Street, which passes through the small town, is the original Lincoln Highway. I got confused on the trip up and we missed this portion heading east, which would have spit us out a little ways before the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor offices located in the Johnston House near the Kingston Dam.  Dating back to 1815, the historic building originally served as a residence for the Alexander Johnston family as well as a travelers’ inn.  On our way through Youngstown we passed a historic roadhouse called the Tin Lizzie Tavern and followed some winding roads which led us to the Arnold Palmer Regional Airport. 

The original Lincoln Highway passed right through the airport, as I mentioned in my first post.  We drove into the airport in order to check out yet one last gas pump, located outside of the entrance to DeNunzio’s Restaurant.  We had just enough daylight to get a few pictures of this cool pump before jumping back onto Route 30 towards Greensburg, picking the Lincoln Highway back up along Frye Farm Road and crossing over near Westmoreland Mall.

At the spur west of the mall, we followed the Lincoln straight into Greensburg instead of bearing left on the bypass.  If you keep in mind that the purpose of the road was to tie all these main roads together, the route makes sense. Today, new bypasses are being built to funnel traffic outside of congested cities and towns, but a century ago, the point was to get the traffic into town so that local businesses could benefit from the visitors and tourists.

Left to right: Cece Otto, Brian Butko, Jennifer Sopko, Rick Sebak

Left to right: Cece Otto, Brian Butko, Jennifer Sopko, Rick Sebak

Our last stop was Little E’s Pizzeria, a gluten-free pizza shop in South Greensburg, where Dave met us for dinner.  The gluten-free, soy-free pizza we shared was surprisingly delicious!  A few days later Cece was continuing west towards Pittsburgh.  However, our time together was not quite over! A few days later met up for lunch at Enrico’s in the Strip District with some fellow local history buffs you might recognize: Brian Butko and Rick Sebak.   Here was some honest-to-goodness, face-to-face social networking, as Dave would say! We all work on different projects and in different formats, but we all have an appreciation for local history. In this instance, it was the Lincoln Highway that brought us together. What a nice afternoon!

All in all I spent a great day getting to know Cece and this small portion of the Lincoln Highway in western Pennsylvania. She’s in Wyoming now, and I’m really interested to see her finally reach the western terminus of the road in San Francisco within the next month. Maybe someday I’ll see as much of the Lincoln Highway as she has, but right now I’m just taking it a few miles at a time.