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The Lincoln Highway: 11/04/15

The Lincoln Highway by Michael Wallis is about the building of the Lincoln Highway and what remains of it.The Lincoln Highway by Michael Wallis is a history and tour of the first United States transcontinental highway. The Lincoln Highway dates back to the summer of 1913 when the Lincoln Highway Association was founded. The route as originally designated when from Manhattan to the Presidio in San Francisco over routes that eventually became U.S. 30, U.S. 50, I-80 and I-580.

The Lincoln Highway Association, a modern day historical society that strives to preserve what remains of the route, to document it's history, and to map and rediscover the parts left to the elements, has an extensive Google Map that traces all the different routes the Lincoln Highway took before being deprecated for the U.S. highway and interstate systems.

Screen shot of the Lincoln Highway Google Map. (Taken May 19, 2015)

The reason I read the book, besides my on-going exploration of the language and stories of the road trip, was to learn a little something about the history of my own home. A stretch of road that I use on a daily basis (actually it's numerous roads, but the traffic flow goes smoothly along them) was at the earliest part, included in the Lincoln Highway route. There are even signs marking it in places.

The many nearby signs also show some of the route's fluctuation over time. Some of the Lincoln Highway near me sits under I-580 but some of it is still drivable on Palomares Road, Castro Valley Blvd, Center Street, Grove Avenue, the bridge crossing to B Street. And some of it has becoming fire trails and hiking trails next to I-580.

Shot of one of the access trails where the Lincoln Highway once led people into Castro Valley

The Lincoln Highway wasn't by any means a modern day freeway. Heck, "freeway" hadn't even been coined yet. It was a named route, pieced together by local and state agencies, with L markers painted by Boy Scouts and other local volunteer groups. Some parts were paved Portland cement. Some were paved with asphalt. Some were macadam roads. Some were gravel. Some were dirt. The route for the most part was a narrow, winding, often treacherous and surprising road.

There's so much that could be written about this road: its effect on different cities, it's fickleness, the way some cities have held on to it for dear life, and how others pushed it aside for bigger and better roads, etc. Instead, the author decided to drive the route (as best he could) and interview the most interesting people he met in each small hamlet.

The author's drive was in the late 1990s, early 2000s, and the book was published in 2007. By at 2015 reading, much of the information is out of date. For instance, the cat that for years was over the end of the tunnel leading into the New Jersey side of the Lincoln Highway, has been removed. It's removal happened shortly after the book was published and there are conflicting online accounts of just where exactly it went.

While certainly the Lincoln Highway pieces are still part of the American landscape and part of many peoples' daily lives, a recent history of a hundred year old route isn't exactly what I was looking for. I wanted something more weighted on history and sociology than on tourism.

I also live blogged my reading on Tumblr.

Two stars

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