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Lincoln Highway had major impact on growth of America

Posted: Friday, Mar 22nd, 2013

Picture was taken at the site of the Black and Orange Cabins at the Fort Bridger State Historic Site. Mary Rochford, a family member of the family who owned the hotel and cabins during the early 1920s.PIONEER PHOTOS/Virginia Giorgis


Pioneer Editor

LYMAN – Two nuggets of the Lincoln Highway are near Fort Bridger, according to Todd Thibodeau, Sunday night at the Lyman Library.

Thibodeau traced the history of the Lincoln Highway at the Jim Bridger birthday celebration hosted by the Fort Bridger State Historical Site.

The Lincoln Highway included approximately 400 miles across Wyoming and is part of the nation’s push to create a route, as straight as possible, making a transcontinental crossing of the United States possible.

There were approximately two million miles of road at the turn of the 20th Century, but they were “unimproved and in poor condition,” Thibodeau said.

Dr. Horatio Nelson Jackson was the first person to cross the United States in an automobile. Thibodeau said, it took Jackson 63 days to make the trip from coast to coast. Part of the time included waiting for parts, brought to him by the railroad, so he could repair his vehicle to continue his travel.

Road races such as the one in 1905, which was actually a promotion for Oldsmobile, helped pave the way for interest in building a transcontinental road. This race took place in early March, and to cross the Summit between Laramie and Cheyenne, they literally “shoveled their way over the Summit,” Thibodeau said.

Carl Fisher recognized roads were just dirt: bumpy and dusty in dry weather, impassable in wet weather. Worse yet, the roads didn't really lead anywhere. They spread out aimlessly. To get from one settlement to another, it was much easier to take the train. Fisher was a man of ideas. As soon as he thought of a project and got it started, he would grow restless and start on another one. His Indianapolis Motor Speedway was a success, especially after he paved it with brick and started the Indianapolis 500, and he would later turn a swamp into one of the greatest beach resorts: Miami Beach, Florida. However, in 1912, he dreamed of another grand idea: a highway spanning the continent, from coast to coast.

He called his idea the Coast-to-Coast Rock Highway. The graveled road would cost about $10 million, low even for 1912.

But credit, according to Thibodeau, for making the road a reality went to Henry Joy. Henry Joy came up with the idea of naming the highway after Abraham Lincoln. He wrote Fisher urging him to write a letter of protest to Congress, which was considering spending $1.7 million on a marble memorial to Lincoln. Joy thought a good road across the country would be a better tribute to the president. The name "Lincoln" captured Fisher's fancy; he realized it would give great patriotic appeal to the highway. Fisher asked Joy if he wanted to be involved directly with the highway project. At first, Joy was hesitant, but soon he wholeheartedly supported the project and became the primary spokesman for the highway.

As far as Joy was concerned, directness was the most important factor. By bypassing many scenic attractions and larger cities along the way, narrow winding roadways and congestion could be avoided.

In 1914 the Wyoming Legislature designated two highways in the state – the Yellowstone Highway and the Lincoln Highway. Although designated, there was no funding to help build and maintain the roads.

A couple of federal road bills – 1916 and 1921 – and the end of World War I proved beneficial for building the Lincoln Highway. It meant, according to Thibodeau, “people, money and equipment to work on roads,” were coming home.

The two jewels of the Lincoln Highway near the town of Fort Bridger; according to Thibodeau, are the Orange and Black Cabins now owned by the state and the Lincoln Highway Bridge, north of Fort Bridger.

Thibodeau said the bridge was “one of the first six structures the highway department built” after they started building permanent concrete structures on the roadway in 1922. The other, was the Rochford Hotel. The hotel was the building of the commanding officers quarters and was moved to the site on the Lincoln Highway just southwest of the corner of Main Street and Carter Avenue in Fort Bridger.

As traffic on the highway grew, the hotel wasn’t big enough to handle all of the travelers and the Orange and Black Cabins, an early motel on the route, were built.

Several years ago, the state acquired the site, and the cabins were restored.

Although there was a push locally for restoring the bridge across the Blacks Fork, it is being replaced due to safety reasons. The rails are to be utilized on site by the Fort Bridger Historic Site.

The Interstate Highway System gained a champion in President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was influenced by his experiences as a young Army officer crossing the country in the 1919 Army Convoy on the Lincoln Highway, the first road across America,

For the complete article see the 03-22-2013 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 03-22-2013 paper.

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