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 #2 –Ligonier to Stoystown

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.

Ligonier BeachAnyways, 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.

Created by Somerset County Technology Center students, this Lincoln Highway roadside giant east of Jennerstown, PA alludes to the Great Allegheny Passage Bike Trail that passes through the region. (Photo by Jennifer Sopko)

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.

This mural, located about midway between Jennerstown and Stoystown, is painted on the side of Yaste Greenhouse Barn. It's enormous!

This mural, located about midway between Jennerstown and Stoystown, is painted on the side of Yaste Greenhouse Barn. It’s enormous! (Photo by Jennifer Sopko)

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.

Here I am with the elusive mural and gas pump at Blanset Hardware in Stoystown.

Here I am with the elusive mural and gas pump at Blanset Hardware in Stoystown. (Photo by Cece Otto)

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…