The Edge of the Wood

by John Messeder, Nemophilist & Ecological Storyteller

Happy Birthday to the Mighty Lincoln Highway

New Oxford train station just west of the square on U.S. 30“It was 3,000 miles of rockin’ rollin’ highway, a million memories long and two lanes wide” – From the lyrics of “Old 30,” by C.W. McCall.

The Lincoln Highway turns 100 this year. Actually, it is about 3,400 miles, New York to San Francisco, and 28 of those miles are in Adams County, Pa., passing through Gettysburg, less than a mile from my home.

Former Adams County Commissioner Harry Stokes once told me the name reflected Gettysburg, and its downtown Wills House, in which the 16th president spent the night before delivering those few words the “world shall little note nor long remember.”

According to the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor (, the road was the brainchild of Carl Graham Fisher, a multimillionaire businessman from Indiana, and Henry B. Joy, another automotive visionary. Cars were new and people were eager to drive out to see what they could, and a highway stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans seemed an excellent marketing ploy. The name apparently stuck, and in 1913 the road finally connected a continuous string of rock, dirt and hard-surfaced roads from New York City to San Francisco.

In Pennsylvania, the road follows U.S. 30 through Lancaster, home to a thriving Amish community, where the roads often are shared with signature black, boxlike, one-horse carriages; York, the nation’s first capital; Gettysburg, which, in July 1863, accidentally became what many say was the turning point of the American Civil War; and, before departing the western edge of the commonwealth, Pittsburgh, once home to huge steel mills and Pullman train cars.

The past few years, efforts have been made to erect a series of red, white and blue signs featuring a large L to signify the pathway, which today comprises less than 25% of the original Lincoln Highway as routes have been moved to make way for progress; bypasses around Lancaster and York, for instance, are now called U.S. 30, although the original roads still pass through the historic town.

In Adams County, the Lincoln Highway passes through the centers of Abbottstown, New Oxford and Gettysburg. Between Abbottstown and New Oxford, a small concrete highway marker on the north side of the roadway is engraved “P102 Y16 G12” was an early road sign – Philadelphia 102 miles, York 16 miles and Gettysburg 12 miles. The marker was one of a series erected in 1928 by the Boy Scouts of America.

West of Gettysburg is Cashtown, where Confederate troops bedded down at the Cashtown Inn before entering Gettysburg on July 1, 1863. Cashtown sits astride the portion of road now called Old Route 30, since new Route 30 was built to go around the town’s north side.

Cashtown lies at the base of the first significant hill westbound travelers had to climb since leaving Philadelphia and crossing the American Piedmont. Many of them stopped at the Cashtown Inn to pick up extra water before clearing the toll gate for the laborious climb to the hill’s summit at Tick Tock. The town reportedly takes its name from the toll collector who, it was said, would accept only cash from the passing travelers.

Along the way, there are three wineries, and numerous orchards, among which the York apple was developed to withstand the arduous ocean voyage back to England.

And of course, there is the Gettysburg National Military Park, where the nation did not fall apart while it argued with itself about whether business owners should own their workers like so much cattle.

The Lincoln Highway passes through some of the nation’s most significant history. I believe I’ll have to go driving.

Wave if you see me out there.

1 Comment

  1. John,
    I’ve traveled many portions of US 30 from Canton, Ohio to the Pacific Northwest. Don’t recall doing that in PA though may have as a child. My family lived about 8 miles from that road. Don’t recall ever hearing it referred to as Lincoln Highway. That must be a PA thing. I can recall the change from two lanes to four and all the bypasses in the 1980s. Down here I often travel US 60, another historic highway. Thanks for the Memories as our friend, Bob Hope, used to sing at the end of each program.

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