Lincoln Highway celebrates centennial

2013-06-20T00:00:00Z 2014-05-01T18:17:12Z Lincoln Highway celebrates centennialJoyce Russell joyce.russell@nwi.com, (219) 762-1397, ext. 2222 nwitimes.com

One hundred years ago, three businessmen envisioned being able to travel across the country.

The automobile was in its infancy and Indianapolis Motor Speedway founder Carl Fisher, Frank Sieberling, president of Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., and Henry B. Joy, president of Packard Motor Co., wanted to give people a reason to buy new vehicles.

They formed the Lincoln Highway Association on July 1, 1913, to begin lobbying the U.S. government for the need of such a highway and to raise funds for the project.

The highway was built and not only changed the way people traversed the country, but also changed the communities, including those in Northwest Indiana, through which the Lincoln Highway travels.

A group of people will be traveling the original route of the Lincoln Highway this month to commemorate the creation of the nation's first transcontinental highway.

Russell Rein, of Ypsilanti, Mich., a charter member of today's Lincoln Highway Association, which was resurrected in the 1990s, said the centennial of that original idea to traverse the country is being celebrated by a cross-country trip. Groups will be leaving from each coast, and meeting in Kearney, Neb., where a two-day celebration will be held June 30 and July 1.

John Peters, of the LHA, said an eastern tour will depart Saturday from New York with 141 people in 73 cars, heading to Nebraska. They will follow the original route of the Lincoln Highway, including through Northwest Indiana. On June 27, the group will make a morning stop at Deep River Park, on 73rd Avenue in Hobart, a part of the original Lincoln Highway.

A second convoy will leave San Francisco on Saturday and headed to Nebraska.

On both tours there will be participants from 28 states as well as from Australia, Canada, England, Norway, Germany and Russia, Peters said.

"Almost every current make of car is represented as is every decade. Because of the number of cars on the tour, we will not be traveling in a convoy, but rather in groups of three or four cars. Each car will have a Lincoln Highway Centennial Tour decal on the doors," he said.

As they pass through Northwest Indiana, they'll see the impacts the highway brought to the region.

The original Lincoln Highway, said Larry Clark, genealogist with the Porter County Public Library System, was a "hodgepodge of existing roads" that crossed the country.

Those existing roads included what was Main Street in Valparaiso. The street's name, like that of Main Street in LaPorte, was changed to Lincolnway.

The designation of Valparaiso's Main Street as part of the Lincoln Highway increased traffic through the city, which in the 1930s, contributed to the need to construct a bypass around cities such as Valparaiso, Clark said. That bypass became today's U.S. 30.

"People seemed to recognize this was a place to cross the country," he said, adding the street also graduated from a dirt road to a paved brick street.

One of the most well-known segments of the Lincoln Highway is The Ideal Section, some 1.5 miles of the highway running between Dyer and Schererville, constructed in 1922 and 1923, said Rein, a member of the 2013 Lincoln Highway Centennial Committee.

"It had the widest lanes, deepest concrete and lighting. It was a premiere piece of highway at that time," Rein said.

They'll also pass the Ostermann Memorial, located in front of Meyer's Castle on U.S. 30 in Schererville. The memorial is in memory of Henry C. Ostermann, vice president and field secretary of the original Lincoln Highway Association, who was killed on the highway June 8, 1920, in Iowa.

Rein said the association is working with Dyer to restore the monument, likely in 2014 when sidewalks are scheduled to be constructed in the area.

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