Drive the Historic Illinois Lincoln Highway / History and Attractions

This feature article is about  the Illinois Lincoln Highway which extends across the state east to west for a length of 179 miles. Before we describe the Illinois section of this historic transcontinental highway, we want to offer you a brief history about this early 1900’s project along with some of the people who made it possible.

lincoln highway route markerRoads Before the Lincoln Highway

The Lincoln Highway was the nation’s first transcontinental highway.The highway, planned in 1913, had a positive lasting effect that fostered the Good Roads movement which also led to the establishment of the historic Route 66.

Prior to the conception of the Lincoln Highway, automobile manufacturers were growing by leaps and bounds but the highway situation in the country was something else altogether. In 1912 there were actually no decent roads (for automobile driving) in the U.S. There was no asphalt and concrete at that time and the definition of an improved road was simply one that was graded. There was also no general road plan. Roads would generally lead outside of a town in all directions.

Names Behind the Creation of the Lincoln Highway

Leaders were needed to galvanize action to make a coast to coast highway possible. Money would have to be raised and to accomplish this an adequate amount of promotion to the public was necessary. Help from the Detroit automakers and suppliers would be  essential, most importantly from people like Henry Ford.

Most credit Carl Fisher with the original idea for this coast to coast national highway. Fisher is well known for several endeavors including the co-founding and building of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at 16th Street and Georgetown Road, about six miles est of downtown Indianapolis, IN.

joliet illinois lincoln highway

Downtown Joliet, Illinois

Fisher worked on a plan that in addition to building funds from automakers and auto suppliers, towns along the way would provide equipment and enjoy the commercial benefits of being located on this transcontinental highway. Another source of revenue would come from the public who for $5 each could be members of this historic highway.

As it turned out, Henry Ford refused to help fund the highway, believing that it as the public’s responsibility. Those however who joined Carl Fisher did include Henry Joy, the president of the Packard Motor Car Company and Frank Seiberling, president of Goodyear Tire Company.

Naming the Highway

At the time of the organizing and fund raising, there was no name chosen for the future highway.  It just so happened that the federal government was mulling over spending $1.7 million for a marble monument in honor of Abraham Lincoln. Henry Joy from Packard came up with the idea for naming the highway after Lincoln and he and Carl Fisher then urged Congress to use the monument funds for the highway construction instead. The argument was that a transcontinental highway would make a much higher profile monument to the late President.

Routing the Highway

States were lobbying for routes that of course would be beneficial to them. As it turned out, the route chosen for the New York City to San Francisco federal highway would essentially be the most direct one. The Lincoln Highway has the distinction of being the first paved transcontinental highway in the nation.

The Illinois Lincoln Highway

Today, the Illinois Lincoln Highway is a 179 mile long National Scenic Byway. Travel this highway that runs through northern Illinois and discover each town and city’s unique culture and historic sites and landmarks.

The Lincoln Highway route enters Illinois on the east at the town of Lynwood and leaves the state on the west over the Mississippi River. The highway is comprised through Illinois via U.S. 30, and Illinois Routes 31 and 38.

The Illinois Lincoln Highway Coalition along with many local historians, artists and various civic leaders are all credited for the unique thirty-five interpretive murals along the Lincoln Highway. An excellent website with a detailed description of each mural is…http://www.drivelincolnhighway.com/murals/

You may also enjoy additional Trips Into History articles found on the links below…

Drive Wisconsin’s Picturesque Lake Superior Scenic Byway

Travel Michigan’s Copper Harbor Scenic Highway

Chicago’s Magnificent Mile / Historic Fourth Presbyterian Church

ronald reagan boyhood home dixon illinois

Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home, Dixon, IL

More attractions along the Illinois Lincoln Highway include Ronald Reagan’s Home and Visitor Center in Dixon, the 1950’s Midway Drive-In Theater in Sterling, Original 1928 Lincoln Highway concrete markers in Ashton, the 1926 Rialto Square Theater in Joliet, the Black Hawk Statue, the Eternal Indian in Oregon and many more.

Just as with the old Route 66 built years later, the Lincoln Highway spurred the opening of motor courts, diners and gas stations, drive-ins, roadside stands selling just about everything and of course hamburger stands. All things that served the motorist sprang up. Driving these historic highways today is truly taking a trip back into history as some of these old structures still exist today and several museums display photos of Illinois’ Lincoln Highway early years.

illinois lincoln highway route

 

 

 

 

 

100 Year Anniversary in 2015

In commemoration of 100 years since the opening of the Lincoln Highway, the Lincoln Highway Association will host the “Henry B. Joy” Tour. The tour will run from June 27-July 8, 2015. The 2015 Tour will depart the Packard Proving Grounds north of Detroit, Michigan on Saturday, June 27 and take 12 days to travel 2,836 miles across America, arriving at the Lincoln Highway Western Terminus in San Francisco, California on Wednesday, July 8.  For more information on joining this tour including rates and details, see website…..http://www.lincolnhighwayassoc.org/tour/2015/

Some very good books on the historic Lincoln Highway include…..Lincoln Highway Across Illinois, The Images of America by David A. Belden and Christine O’Brien…..Greetings from the Lincoln Highway: A Road Trip Celebration of America’s First Coast-to-Coast Highway by Brian Butko…...Lincoln Highway Companion: A Guide to America’s First Coast-to-Coast Road by Brian Butko.

(Article copyright Trips Into History. Photo of Reagan Boyhood Home courtesy of Ivo Shandor, CC By 2.5. Remaining photos and images in the public domain)

Along the Mighty Mississippi / Travel the Meeting of the Great Rivers Scenic Byway

One of the best trips available to anyone wanting to explore our country’s history are the many scenic byways found east and west and everywhere in between. One of the most popular of these highways runs along the eastern bank of the Mississippi River and makes a great family trip back into history.

In southwestern Illinois, locals as well as tourists have a very unique trail to explore. For thirty-three scenic miles is The Meeting of the Great Rivers Scenic Route which was made an Illinois State Scenic Byway on June 8, 1998. There are no fees along the byway proper and ferries on the byway are free.

great river route illinois

Great River Route

The Historic Mississippi

All through history, the Mississippi River impacted numerous lives: the Dakota, Chippewa, and Hopewell societies; early French voyagers; African-Americans looking for opportunity on the Underground Railroad; and a lot of people more. Through its beguiling stream towns and metropolitan urban communities, notable locales and social antiques, today’s Great River Road still connects communities, individuals, and history.

The Great Rivers Meet

This stretch where the Mississippi River meets the Missouri is an historic site. The Mississippi, a working waterway, is additionally an ecological fortune. Memorable eighteenth century waterway towns, islands, bars, focuses, and twists make excellent view underneath limestone feigns that are secured by timberlands reaching out over about 20,000 sections of land.

Following are just a few of the many attractions and historic sites along and near to the Meeting of the Great Rivers Scenic Route.

meeting of the great rivers scenic highway

Great Rivers highway north of Alton, Illinois

The National Great Rivers Museum

Opened in October 2003, this excellent and well laid out museum is committed to telling the story of everyday life on the Mighty Mississippi River and how it has molded our society, history, economy, biology and individuals. The National Great Rivers Museum has more than 20 interactive displays concentrating on the cycles of the waterway, nature, scow activity, water utilization and plenty more.

A plethora of history relating to life on the waterway and a complete explanation of why we need locks on the river for efficient transportation. The museum offers reasons why all should take an interest in the preservation of our country’s rivers. The National Great Rivers Museum is located at 2 Lock and Dam Way, Alton, Illinois.

Lewis & Clark Confluence Tower

The Lewis & Clark Confluence Tower is the gateway to the Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway. The northern tower features a visitors center. When you’re at the visitors center you can plan your thirty-three mile journey down the scenic byway. The visitors center features videos and graphic displays that tell stories of history, wildlife and communities all along this historic and scenic path

The Lewis & Clark Confluence Tower is located in Hartford, Illinois. This is two miles from the Lewis & Clark State Historic Site. The Lewis & Clark Confluence Tower was built in commemoration of the historic expedition to the northwest and the Pacific. The tower which is 180 feet tall offers visitors three viewing areas at the 50, 100 and 150 foot levels. These connect the two towers that were built to represent Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. The location of the towers is at 435 Confluence Tower Dr., Hartford, Illinois.

Wood River Museum and Visitors Center

The Wood River Heritage Council has worked diligently to preserve the town’s history. The Wood River Museum and Visitors Center is the place to visit to learn all about area events such as the Wood River massacre of 1814, the Flood of 1915, Olde Towne. and the history of Standard Oil’s impact on the community. The museum is located at 40 W. Ferguson Avenue, Wood River, Illinois.

You may also enjoy the Trips Into History articles found on the links below…

A Drive on Wisconsin’s Lake Superior Scenic Byway

Michigan’s Copper Harbor Scenic Byway

meeting of the great rivers map

Meeting of the Great Rivers Map

 

Pere Marquette Cross

French explorer Louis Joliet and Jesuit priest Father Jacques Marquette led the first French expedition down the Mississippi River in June of 1673 in search of the Pacific Ocean.

Their expedition followed the Mississippi River south to the mouth of the Arkansas River. When reaching that point the Native Americans they encountered told them they were only about ten days away from the Gulf of Mexico. The expedition leaders decided to turn around for home lest they be captured by either the Indians or the Spaniards.

There were positive things that came from the expedition although finding the Pacific Ocean was not one of them. Marquette and Joliet were credited with establishing relations with the Native American tribes that they met along the way. What they learned of the area eventually led to the French taking possession of Louisiana.

lewis & clark towers harford illinois

Lewis & Clark Towers, Hartford, Illinois

Cut from a solid piece of dolomite, the Pere Marquette Cross is seven feet six inches high. It is located on a ledge of a bluff that overlooks the Illinois River. Two flights of dolomite stairs lead from the Sam Vadalabene Bike Trail to the cross. The Pere Marquette monument is located 4 1/2 miles east of the main Park entrance on the Great River Road.The location is 13122 Visitor Center Lane, Grafton, Illinois.

More Information

The north end of this scenic route is at the Pere Marquette State Park. The southern end of the route is at the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers.

For more information about planning a trip along the Meeting of the Great Rivers Scenic Route, check out the websites listed below.

Greatriversbywway.com

Meeting of the Great Rivers Visitors Guide

(Article copyright 2014 Trips Into History. Route map image courtesy of the Dept of Transportation, Great River Route Highway Photo and Lewis & Clark photo courtesy of the Federal Highway Dept. Great Rivers Highway photo north of Alton, Illinois courtesy Kbh3rd, CC 3.0 license.)