In the fall of 1997, Jenny, Vienna, and I took a stretch of the Lincoln Highway that meanders across the northern flank of Ohio - roughly along highway 30 - from East Liverpool to Van Wert in the west. Once we hit the conclusion of Lincoln in Ohio, we turned north for Toledo and headed back east along U.S. 20.
The nation's first transcontinental highway -- named to commemorate President Lincoln -- stretched from New York to San Francisco by its completion in 1928. According to a 1920 publication of the Lincoln Highway Association called A Picture of Progress, "[t]he Lincoln Highway has become a national institution. Its progress has continued to reflect the growth of national good roads sentiment. Its present condition is an excellent measure of the status of American highway construction in every section of the country." Before Route 66 -- and long before the Eisenhower Interstate system that replaced them both -- the Lincoln was America's Main Street. This postcard illustrates how long ago that time was.
We've chosen to take a short trip along its length in order to explore the aging tourist courts that hang on to their livelihoods in our home state. In a way, life has always been tough along this road; the Lincoln eked out its existence before the wholesale emergence of filling stations and motels. A pamphlet entitled "Rediscovering Utah's Lincoln Highway" puts it best: "Sleeping under the stars was expected west of the Mississippi. And automobiles at the time were essentially engine-powered wagons without heat, air conditioning or comfortable suspension. It was a rugged way to travel and only the hardy, resourceful and well-prepared person could successfully complete the trip. It also helped to have a thick wallet." Even so, two slow driving days across Ohio -- with its main street diners, rolling countryside, and even the occasional motel -- are almost always better than six hours via interstate.
We start in East Liverpool, a city that celebrates its past importance as a maker of pottery. Indeed, it's pretty easy to find a couple of old doorknobs that were cast off from a nearby factory. These gems are dug up by antique store owners' kids who fish through the dump for hidden treasures. A few bucks later, we're off to meet Anil at the Lincoln Motel near Massillon. Anil has a master's degree in economics, but says that most of what he learned in school is useless; he'd rather deal with real people than abstractions. Our room -- wooden station wagon panels, bright orange blankets, and tape on the windows -- is cheap and comfortable. Further down the road, the Chase Motel offers carports and cozy cottages, but we've got to be moving on. We stop by the McKinley national memorial and learn -- in a museum that also features animatronic dinosaurs -- that he was shot listening to music at the Buffalo Exposition of 1901.
Driving into the soup of winter fog (it must be El Nino's fault, we imagine), we learn to pick out the Lincoln Highway signs put up by a recently revived preservation society. In one of the many books written about highway travel in the youth of this old road, Effie Price Gladding illustrated our experience aptly. Writing in Across the Continent by the Lincoln Highway, she recalls: we were "guided by the red, white, and blue marks; sometimes painted on telephone poles, sometimes put up by way of advertisement over garage doors or swinging on hotel signboards; sometimes painted on little stakes, like croquet goals, scattered along over the great spaces of the desert. We learned to love the red, white, and blue, and the familiar big L which told us that we were on the right road." Bucyrus is a great site to find some of the old, cracked highway markers that survive. In Williamstown, we spot the Bon-Air Motel. It's a relic that looks to be held together, and held up, by gangly trees. A sea of mist hangs over the harvested cornfields as we head into the night.
While the Lincoln Highway beckons us to continue beyond the state line, we must head back; you can only go so far in a four-day weekend! Heading east along U.S. 20 from Toledo, we cruise into Clyde and stop at Bogey's Chicken Diner, serving tote-a-lick chicken ("'tis the taste that tells the tale") and stay at the Winesburg Motel -- a site that looks like a swiss chalet. The houses around here are almost uniformly lit with Christmas lights, and the downtown offers a glittering holiday display, but we don't tarry long; it's been a long day. Except for a couple of visits from Norfolk and Western trains (about 150 feet from our room), the night passes pleasantly.
Trails End Motel
The next day, on the east side of Monroeville, we visit the Trails End Motel. Tiny bits of ice, maybe even some snow, greet us as we step out into the crisp, cold air. The entrance is marked by a tall wooden doorway of sorts. One almost expects to see a "flying J," or some other moniker, inviting us into the old west. The insulation for the windows is little more than plastic sheeting, but it's good enough for the travellers who've stopped here for the night. A truck passes by -- Guaranteed Overnight Delivery ("1-800-Dial God"). In front of the office is an aging mini-golf course with a wooden obelisk, dog house, and loopty-loop ramp that looks like it hasn't been played in ten years. Down the road, a billboard proclaims that it's time to "Get us OUT of the United Nations." OK, then. Our cash and time nearly exhausted, we head south for home, already making plans for a longer drive.
To learn more about the Lincoln Highway in Ohio (and beyond), we suggest you check out James Lin's outstanding page.
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Last update: April 6, 1999. All photographs copyright © Jenny Wood. Text copyright © Andy Wood.