Along the Lincoln Highway with American Songline – Leg #1: Greensburg to Ligonier

I have Lincoln Highway fever!

Cece Otto and pianist Aaron Gray on stage at Ligonier Town Hall.

Cece Otto and pianist Aaron Gray on stage at Ligonier Town Hall. (Photo by Jennifer Sopko)

After I caught American Songline songstress Cece Otto’s performance at the Ligonier town hall last Thursday night, we decided to meet up over the weekend and do some sightseeing along the Lincoln Highway since she was spending the next week in the greater Pittsburgh area.  We spent a beautiful Saturday by taking a mini road trip through western Pennsylvania, from Greensburg to Stoystown and back, tracing the original 1913 Lincoln Highway route and stopping at various murals and gas pumps along the way.  I had an absolutely wonderful day.  It was great to spend the day with a new friend and do some historical exploring.  Throughout the next series of posts I plan to relate our travels and try and describe how we followed the route.

The tricky part about following the Lincoln Highway is that not only are there different generations of the road where portions were rerouted, but some sections are either inaccessible (blocked, difficult to drive on, located on private property) or destroyed, so at some points you have to follow detours or subsequent generations of realignments. We tried to follow the original 1913 route as much as possible and were successful most of the way that was drivable, according to the Lincoln Highway Association’s interactive map. Thanks to the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor, the 200 miles of the route that they cover have been marked with signs, which reassured me that we were going the right way!

Greensburg to Ligonier

Historic Hanna's Town

Photo by Jennifer Sopko

Although Hanna’s Town is not located on the Lincoln Highway, the site’s historical importance lured us there for a visit. Founded in 1773 and named after Robert Hanna, the colonial settlement known as Hanna’s Town was the first county seat in Westmoreland County and the first English court west of the Allegheny Mountains.  It was an important settlement during the Revolutionary War Period.  The town was irretrievably burned in 1782 during a British and Indian attack during one of the last battles; the land was eventually converted to farmland and the county seat was permanently moved to Greensburg in 1786.

Left to right: Louise Tilzey-Bates, Cece Otto, Me

Left to right: Louise Tilzey-Bates, Cece Otto, Me

Photo by Jennifer Sopko

Today the site is managed through a partnership between the Westmoreland County Historical Society and Westmoreland County Parks and Recreation and features a reconstructed tavern and courthouse, three 18th century log houses, a Revolutionary-era fort and a wagon house. Historians and archaeologists have benefited from the extraordinary amount of artifacts that have been found in the area through digs.  We happened to visit during the season’s Opening Day and met up with Louise Tilzey-Bates, heritage tourism coordinator for Westmoreland Heritage, a county-wide partnership of historical organizations.    We also watched a gun demonstration by a militia encamped in the fort.

Photo by Jennifer Sopko

After leaving Hanna’s Town, we caught the Lincoln Highway about midway through downtown Greensburg on East Pittsburgh Street.  Generally following East and West Pittsburgh Streets, the Lincoln Highway went straight through the city as it connected many cities and towns along the route.  It’s easier to follow the road eastbound, starting off on Tollgate Hill Road (turn right at the Gabriel Brother’s intersection on Route 30) because East and West Pittsburgh Streets are now one-way.  If you are heading westbound, you’re going to be detoured along West and East Otterman Streets.  After stopping for a quick picture of a painted Lincoln Highway sign on a viaduct, we left downtown Greensburg and hopped onto Route 30, which we followed until passing Westmoreland Mall. I was pretty excited to find what my friend characterized as a Lincoln Highway Easter egg: a subtle reminder of the road’s presence in this area.

Making a right at the main intersection past the mall, we followed Old Route 30 (the Lincoln) for a bit, got back onto Route 30 and made a left onto Frye Farm Road/Trail 604/Old Route 30 (the Lincoln). I have to confess that for a short distance we followed a 1930 realignment of the Lincoln Highway instead of the 1913 route (my bad!). We followed some windy roads, passed the Inn at Mountainview and ran parallel to Route 30 as the Clair E. Frye farm, before being forced to rejoin Route 30 at Beatty Crossroads (intersection of Beatty County Road and Sand Hill Road), near the new home of the Westmoreland County Historical Society.

Unfortunately, at this point the Lincoln Highway disappears for a while and so we weren’t able to join back up with it until we passed Latrobe. The route between Beatty Crossroads and Latrobe is not drivable as it essentially passes through what is now Arnold Palmer Regional Airport. Allegedly there are remnants of the road in the fields near the airport and I am told there are actually remnants of four roads near the site of St. Xavier’s Academy and Convent (the oldest Sisters of Mercy institution in the country): 1) the Forbes Road; 2) the Old State Road/Pennsylvania Road/1790 State Road; 3) the Philadelphia-Pittsburgh Turnpike; and 4) the Lincoln Highway. However, we couldn’t see anything from the highway and to do so would probably require us trespassing on private property and getting yelled at.

After leaving Latrobe, we rejoined the Lincoln Highway right after where Route 30 splits into eastbound and westbound lanes that straddle both sides of the Loyalhanna Creek for several miles.  This is such a beautiful drive through the Ligonier Valley, with walls of lush, towering trees on both sides of the road, creating a cool, shady tunnel. This is a pretty confusing stretch because the Lincoln Highway, the Route 30 bypass and the former roadbed of Ligonier Valley Rail Road all run together in this area. I think it’s easiest to generalize the eastbound lanes as the Lincoln Highway and the westbound lanes as the Route 30 bypass around Ligonier (former railroad roadbed).  When the eastbound and westbound lanes meet up again the 1913 Lincoln briefly becomes the westbound lanes near Timberlinks Golf Course until heading up into the hills near the intersection of Route 259 (along an inaccessible stretch) and then running parallel to Route 30  as it heads into Ligonier. I’ll explained more about this going westbound when I detail our return trip in a future post.

Shirley Iscrupe shows us a unique postcard featuring Betsy, the Lincoln Highway Association’s 1918 Packard Twin-six touring car furnished by the Packard Motor Car Company. (Photo by Jennifer Sopko)

Cece and I spent a very lovely afternoon in Ligonier, a very picturesque and historic town.  After having lunch right on the Lincoln Highway at the Ligonier Tavern, we visited the Ligonier Valley Library. I wanted Cece to meet Shirley Iscrupe, the Pennsylvania Room Archivist, and check out the library’s annual historical photo show, the theme of which is the Lincoln Highway through the Ligonier Valley.  Not only does the exhibition feature wonderful pictures of the Lincoln Highway in and around the town, but it also focuses on the businesses and attractions that sprung up along the route. The photo show runs until June 29. Ligonier (Fort Ligonier, to be exact) was an important point along the Forbes Road, a strategic British expedition to take Fort Duquesne and usurp control of the Forks of the Ohio from the French (now the confluence at present-day Pittsburgh) during the French and Indian War. It’s not surprising that, since colonial days, Ligonier continued to be a featured town along main roads through western Pennsylvania, including the Lincoln Highway.

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