Standing in the shadow of Little Boy Blue, it’s easy to imagine how excited early travelers must have been to traverse the Lincoln Highway, the first coast-to-coast highway ever created. Not only were they getting to see things that they’d never seen before—imagine their surprise at the sight of a 2-1/2 story coffeepot alongside the road—but they were also ushering in the age of automobile travel and paving the way for future road-trippers.
Even before Route 66 was created, the Lincoln Highway allowed people to travel from one side of the country to the other. Completed in 1925, the transcontinental route wove from New York, NY to San Francisco, CA, and encompassed six counties in Pennsylvania. When the Pennsylvania Turnpike was constructed in 1940, however, the highway, a braided route that crisscrosses what is today Rt. 30, fell out of favor for those wanting a quicker and easier route across the state.
Travel Back in Time
The good news, at least for those who love nostalgic road trips, is that you can still drive the 200-mile Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor through Pennsylvania, and see a lot of what it was like for those early adventurers. I have huge admiration for what they endured; while I have had some difficult drives in my day, nothing compares to what these intrepid travelers went through back in the 1920s and ‘30s.
To get a really good idea of what it was like, first stop at the Lincoln Highway Experience Museum, located in Latrobe, PA. There, you can watch a short film that documents all of the hazards that came with early road trips, from radiators boiling over to brakes failing, to a lack of road signs that made traveling along early routes such an adventure. I always thought that the reason that Pennsylvania had so many roadhouse-type restaurants at the top of mountains was for the view; turns out that they were built to help early travelers whose cars were overheating after a rough drive.
The S.S. Grand View Point Hotel, known as the Ship Hotel because of its shape, was a prime example of this; located at the top of Grand View Point—elevation 2,464 feet—it hosted the likes of Clara Bow, Greta Garbo and Henry Ford. While the hotel burned down in 2001, you can still stop at its former site for an amazing view of three states and seven counties.
Roadside Attractions: The Bigger, the Better
Though the hotel is gone, there are still a lot of old-time attractions to see along the route. Early marketing geniuses, looking to find a way to get travelers to stop on the road, constructed numerous oversized statues to garner attention, including the aforementioned 18-foot tall Little Boy Blue statue outside Schellsburg, PA, that used to welcome families to the now defunct amusement park, Story Land, and the giant coffeepot in Bedford. While you’re in Bedford, make sure to gas up at Dunkle’s Gulf Service Station, a terra-cotta tiled Art Deco building that opened in 1933 and still serves customers today.
And speaking of bigger…it doesn’t get any larger than Mister Ed’s Elephant Museum and Candy Emporium in Orrtana, PA, home to a collection of more than 12,000 elephants. From figurines to stuffed animals to a massive Barnum Circus elephant statue inside the store, the shop pays homage to all things pachyderm. Started in the 1970s by Ed Gotwalt, who received his first collectible elephant as a wedding gift, the museum has overflowed to the outside of the property, where elephant benches, fountains and figurines greet visitors. Inside you can enjoy more than 70 flavors of homemade fudge, over 700 types of old-time candy and or course, boiled peanuts if you’ve built up a hunger of elephantine proportions (see what I did there?)
There is so much to see along the Lincoln Highway that I took a couple of day to do the drive. And while there are many hotels and bed-and-breakfasts with modern amenities available, I decided to stick with the nostalgia-theme and stay in the Lincoln Motor Court in Bedford County, which was built in the 1930s. The only motor court still in operation along the highway, each little cabin is a time capsule; mine included a vintage tube-operated radio, knotty wood walls, and even National Geographic magazines from the 1940s—not to mention a comfy bed tucked into an alcove, covered by what I would swear was the same style of comforter I slept under at my grandmother’s house.
If you’re looking for a trip back in time, you need look no further than the Lincoln Highway. While it’s not quite the ‘adventure’ that it was in earlier days, it’s most definitely worth the trip.
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