The Lincoln Highway Movement
and the Creation of U.S. Route 30

U.S. Route 30 in Hancock and Wyandot Counties, Ohio

by AE et al. of the ASC Arc Dept.
Excerpt from Rte.30 report: ASC #514

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Historical Framework

The development of the railroad network of the late nineteenth century was followed by the push for a paved national highway system in the first three decades of the twentieth century. At first the automobile was seen as a means of short-distance leisure transportation for the well to-do. But by the eve of the First World War both longer-distance passenger driving and the early use of motorized trucking led to the organization of movements for publicly-financed hard surfaced roads. These roads, the supporters believed, should be linked in a systematic manner that would tie distant points together much like the existing rail network. This movement directly affected Wyandot and Hancock counties. The road system existing in the early twentieth century was the section-based grid of unpaved paths between individual farmer's parcels. The railroads dominated the shipping of goods and shared passenger service with a system of electric interurbans. These large versions of urban streetcars linked all major population centers by the time of the First World War and gave Ohio one of the most extensive interurban networks in the country.

The Road

As early as 1910 the state began thinking in terms of a road network oriented toward the automobile. That year the Highway Department published a bound set entitled Highway Maps of Ohio that showed, county by county, the condition of the sectional roads. The road stretching east from Beaverdam in Allen County through New Stark and Wiliamstown and on into Upper Sandusky was shown as Macadamized (crowned to drain and covered with gravel in a bituminous binder) from Beaverdam east through Hancock County to the Wyandot County line. Macadam surface resumed about six miles east of the line and continued on into Upper Sandusky (Ohio Highway Department 1910). This designation may have been optimistic; one source maintains that as late as 1926 the route was still unimproved from Upper Sandusky west through Beaverdam to Delphos (Hokanson 1988).

The Lincoln Highway Association

However well meant, though, these state and local efforts did little to respond to the call for national system. The movement for a national highway network reached its most visible form with the Lincoln Highway Association. Founded in 1913, the Association's purpose was "to produce the establishment of a continuous improved highway from the Atlantic to the Pacific, open to lawful traffic of all description without toll charges" (Nevins 1954:I, 486). This road was to be known as the Lincoln Highway and in August of 1913 received the endorsement of the National Conference of Governors. This was followed by an active publicity campaign to garner public support and pressure localities to finance and build their local sections.

In an effort to spur development, the Association financed the construction of "seedling miles," provided gifts to localities trying to complete difficult sections, and worked at marking the route through a variety of devices. It also established early design standards for road building by insisting on concrete for all paving, increasing the standard road width to 18 feet by 1916, and providing guidelines for grades, bridging, and signage.

Despite its efforts the Association never accomplished its goal of a coast-to-coast highway. But it did provide a vision of what should exist. More important was the fact that its failure led the federal government to involve itself in financing a national highway system. As it became obvious that even the most enthusiastic actions could not succeed if they were based on local and state funding alone, the public was willing to provide Washington with the authority to finance highways through a gasoline tax.

The Lincoln Highway in Southern Hancock and Western Wyandot Counties

The Lincoln Highway movement had a more direct impact on southern Hancock, and western Wyandot Counties. The sectional road connecting Beaverdam in Allen County, with Upper Sandusky in Wyandot County was selected as a portion of the national route the Association advocated. Henry Joy, president of the Packard Motor Car Company and one of the leaders of the Association, desired as straight a line as possible between Canton and Mansfield to the east and Fort Wayne, Indiana to the west. For this he advocated the use of the sectional road that ran from Upper Sandusky straight west through Beaverdam to Delphos.

Other members of the Association disagreed with this choice. They maintained that a more roundabout path -- southwest from Mansfield to Marion, then west to Kenton and northwest through Lima to Delphos -- was more practical in that it utilized more roads that were already improved and connected several centers of population that Joy's route would bypass. This somewhat longer route was the one initially chosen by the Association, but Joy was able to overrule the other members. This was based in part on the more direct path of his route, and on the fact that he felt that Marion and Lima had not provided sufficient financial support for the effort to justify their inclusion.

The result of this debate was the establishment of two routes. The longer southern path, passing through President Harding's home town, was christened the Harding Highway in 1921. It was this route that gained state funding for the improvements that brought it up to the standards of the Lincoln Highway Association. The northern route, officially designated the Lincoln Highway through Joy's efforts, remained unimproved and had nothing more than red, white, and blue bands on its utility poles to distinguish it from other rural sectional roads.

The split was made official with the creation of the national highway system in 1926. Route 30 was the number designation chosen for much of the proposed Lincoln Highway path, and both the direct northern route, U.S. 30N, and the meandering southern route, U.S. 30S, obtained designation and the resulting improvements. This dual designation lasted until 1974, when U.S. 30S surrendered its status as a national highway and became State Route 309, allowing the northern route to achieve the status originally proposed by Joy (Carnes 1976; Hokanson 1988).

The Road Today

The status of the road as part of the Lincoln Highway, and later a national highway, did little to alter the physical character of the area. It still remained overwhelmingly rural, with little development related to easier connections with distant centers. Perhaps only the occasional motel, now in ruins, indicates that the road was more that a typical rural means of access for the surrounding farms. Only the intersection with Interstate Highway 75 at the western end near Beaverdam in Allen County, with its small-scale commercial development, has affected the nature of the area.

Sources

  • Carnes, John R. (editor)
    1976 The 1976 History of Allen County, Ohio. Allen County Historical Society, Lima, Ohio.

  • Hokanson, Drake
    1988 The Lincoln Highway. University of Iowa, Iowa City.

  • Nevins, Allen
    1954 Ford: The Times, The Man, The Company. Scribners, New York.

  • Ohio Highway Department
    1910 Highway Maps of Ohio. State of Ohio, Columbus.

    - end -



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