If you haven’t heard of the Ideal Section in Dyer, you’re missing an important piece of transportation history.
“It was on Sept. 12, 1910, that Carl Fisher, an Indiana entrepreneur, first shared his idea for a coast-to-coast highway across the United States. Exactly one year later, the Lincoln Highway Association published the route of the Lincoln Highway,” Bruce Butgereit said Saturday at the dedication of the Ideal Section and Henry Ostermann monuments on U.S. 30 and near Meyer Castle in Dyer.
Butgereit is on the board of the Indiana Lincoln Highway Association and was the project chairman.
“On September of 1920, the Lincoln Highway Association sent out 4,600 questionnaires to the best engineering brains in our country for their opinion on what would constitute the most technologically advanced road in the world,” Butgereit said.
In September 1921, Lake County offered $25,000 — $336,099.16 in 2016 dollars — for construction of the “show road of the world,” he said.
That 1.3-mile stretch of road was built to the same width and depth of modern interstate highways.
When you drive on the Ideal Section today, you’re not driving on the same road surface that was built nearly a century ago. The road has been rebuilt since then. There are two other notable changes, too.
On May 13, 1921, The Lake County Times reported on the deal to build the Ideal Section in Dyer.
“Practically every state in the union has attempted to obtain this ideal road, and it is a distinct compliment for Indiana and Lake County to secure the privilege. Noted, as the United States is, for its wonderful highways, this particular stretch will be the acme of perfection and from the standpoint of the tourist and will draw the attention and investigation of many foreign countries,” the story said.
At the time, a 40-acre campsite was to be included along the Ideal Section for the “hundreds and thousands of tourists who will without doubt flock to Lake County to view the road.”
That campsite was never built, deemed by the Lincoln Highway Association to be too expensive. Meyer Castle, built by Calumet National Bank founder Joseph Meyer, was erected there instead.
But the lighting along that stretch of road was put in place, and it was impressive. Butgereit said there was a fear drivers would forget to use their headlights because the road was lighted so well.
When the Ideal Section was built, along the old Sauk Trail used by Indians long ago, it included lighting designed specifically for that stretch of highway by General Electric engineers. The Lake County Times reported on it on April 11, 1922.
“The lighting unit developed is extremely simple with regard to installation cost and operation, as well as maintenance.”
It embodies an entirely new principle for collecting the light rays and casting them only where needed,” the story said. “There is no need for lighting the vacant fields adjacent to a highway, and engineers have spent years studying methods of preventing such a waste of power.”
The lights were to be put 250 feet apart, with underground wires serving each pole.
On Saturday, as vehicles whizzed by, a newly restored and enhanced monument to the Ideal Section was unveiled.
Along with it is a monument to Henry C. Ostermann, who served as field secretary to the Lincoln Highway Association.
Ostermann’s background, detailed in a Dyer Historical Society pamphlet, is worth reading. In an era before child labor laws, he served as a newsboy in New York City at age 7, living in a newsboys’ home. He was a bellboy at a hotel at age 9, a messenger boy at age 10 and a cigar clerk at 14.
Just a month shy of his 15th birthday, on July 8, 1899, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy. Ostermann traveled with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, too.
In 1906, he invented a grain door for freight cars and formed his own manufacturing company.
Ostermann was at the head of a convoy of 50 military and civilian vehicles.
Among the occupants was Lt. Col. and future President Dwight Eisenhower.
The Lake County Times told of that approaching convoy on July 15, 1919. The convoy arrived in San Francisco on Sept. 6, 1919.
Ostermann was driving on another cross-country road trip on June 8, 1920, when he lost control of his 1918 Packard and died on the Lincoln Highway he loved so much.
Famed landscape architect Jens Jensen designed a memorial to Ostermann along the Ideal Section in Dyer. The years took their toll.
Under Butgereit’s leadership, many groups came together to restore the Ostermann and Ideal Section monuments in Dyer. A sidewalk now makes it easy to get there, and it’s worth the visit. Interpretative panels have been added to tell the history of Ostermann and the Ideal Section to keep the memories alive for future generations.