Old Lincoln Highway pulled ‘Americans out of the mud’
Lincoln Highway Garage, constructed in 1921 and seen in this circa 1950 photograph, was reportedly the first drive-in service station along the Lincoln Highway. It came down in 2004. A Turkey Hill with mural reflecting the garage’s history and architectural features was constructed on its foundation. The garage is gone but other points of interest from the old Lincoln Highway, now Route 462, remain in York and Adams counties.(Photograph courtesy York County Heritage Trust.) Background post: Lincoln Highway Communities: ‘I know I’ll be back’.
The Lincoln Highway remains a favorite topic to write about whether in blogs ( Change flattens Stony Brook’s drive-in, humpback bridge) or newspaper-columns-turned-blog-posts (June Lloyd’s Road of Remembrance).
A story appearing in the York Daily Record 10 years ago ties together a lot of points about the Lincoln Highway – the old coast-to-coast thoroughfare.
That includes the impact of the 1972 bypass, the propensity of business to take their name from the famous road and prominent sites along its right of way.
Enjoy this windshield tour:
Lynn Haines cleans the windshield of a Villarreal A P Landscaping truck: ‘I have to take care of my old customers.’ The landscapers were regulars at Haines garage for years. Haines attended the 2005 grand opening of the Turkey Hill in York that replaced the former Lincoln Highway Garage.
In the Daily Record of Nov. 20, 1972, an advertisement featured an aerial photograph of a shopping center. “Tomorrow,” the copy under the photo read, “big Park City, Lancaster, moves 30 minutes closer to York.”
In smaller type, the ad explained that York-area Christmas shoppers would find the trip to Lancaster “a breeze” thanks to the new bridge spanning Wrightsville and Columbia.
The bridge’s opening that Tuesday meant completion of the Route 30 bypass. The ad implied that York County consumers would be free of the outdated Lincoln Highway – then Route 30 – to the south.
That Saturday, tucked away on page 4, the Daily Record reported that a drive on the “expressway” took 38 minutes, compared with 71 minutes “on the old route.” (The story didn’t define the distance.)
A quarter-century later, the new Route 30 remains the primary means of transportation between York and Lancaster counties. In fact, Route 30’s congestion has sparked talk of bypassing the bypass. For now, ongoing widening projects in both counties will have to suffice.
Meanwhile, the Lincoln Highway – now more commonly referred to as Market Street or Route 462 – has retained much of what made it attractive to early automobile tourists.
In some respects, “The best thing that can happen to a building is for it to get bypassed and neglected,” says Mindy Higgins, executive director of Historic York Inc. “Because if a building is continually used and tenants change, they make changes to it. They knock off roofs, they add porches, they put in different windows, they put up different signs. If they’re basically abandoned or underused, (buildings) tend to stay more intact.”
Higgins is also a local expert on the Lincoln Highway, which dates to 1913 and became the first coast-to-coast route in the United States. It was named for Abraham Lincoln but conceived by Carl Fisher, developer of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and, later, Miami Beach.
Fisher interested automobile executives in the idea. They responded enthusiastically, according to the 1996 book, “Pennsylvania Traveler’s Guide: The Lincoln Highway,” by Brian A. Butko.
“Their acceptance of a transcontinental route sprang not only from the chance to sell more cars and parts, but also from a sense of adventure and an honest desire to get Americans out of the mud.”
The Lincoln Highway linked existing roads into a 3,389-mile highway that stretched from New York to San Francisco. In Pennsylvania, it ran from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh – and straight through York County.
Travelers today have the choice of taking the Route 30 bypass or the Lincoln Highway, which parallels the bypass to the south. Higgins, 37, prefers the slower Lincoln Highway. She lived in Hanover and Chambersburg in her youth.
“I didn’t have any concept at that time about it being this huge road,” she says. “I thought it was just sort of in Chambersburg. And then one day I realized that I could get on it and drive to California and I was really impressed.”
She laughs. “Actually, I’m still kind of impressed by that.”
Butko’s book is a handy guide, written in a sort of stream-of- consciousness that places a reader in an automobile heading west on the Lincoln Highway. Higgins brought the book along on a recent automobile tour of the 17-mile bypassed stretch in York County. The route is simple enough in York County, but Higgins has toured other parts in western Pennsylvania with the Lincoln Highway Association.
“And in many areas you can’t even drive on the original Lincoln Highway,” she says. “Not just bypassed but grown over and houses built on them. But for the most part you can pretty much reconnect every so often.”
She remembers sitting in the back seat of her parents’ car as a child, counting the ornamental lights on the Veterans Memorial Bridge between Columbia and Wrightsville.
The concrete arched bridge was dedicated on Armistice Day in 1930, according to Butko’s book. It is more than a mile long. Its ornamental lights have been replaced, with fewer but taller modern lights. The old bridge’s high railings obscure the plain bypass bridge to the north. A first-time visitor would never know that Route 30 exists.
On the Wrightsville side, the road dips briefly before rising steeply to the west. Evergreen wreaths or red Christmas banners adorn the telephone poles in the weeks leading up to the holiday.
Past Myers & List Chrysler-Plymouth, Cool Creek Road and K & K Dodge, the tour arrives at Schopf’s Motel on the south side of the highway. Its back-lit sign also advertises seasonal produce.
Behind the tired office are four brown, frame cabins – three double units and a single – and three brick doubles. Knocks at the office go unanswered.
“When people first started using the Lincoln Highway,” Higgins says, “they actually would go away further than a day. And they needed places to stop, to spend the night.”
Initially, tourists rented camping sites at so-called auto camps.
“And then someone realized, “Hey, people will actually pay more money to sleep inside.’ So they built individual cabins,” she says.
Eventually, the cabins evolved into strip motels. Even today, weary travelers will find no fewer than 10 lodges along this bypassed stretch.
But the chain restaurants and motels developed in Springettsbury, Manchester and West Manchester townships, nearer the bypass and Interstate 83. Much of Wrightsville, Hellam Township and Hallam remains farmland, though that appears to be changing.
York County developer Robert Kinsley plans to build an industrial park just to the north of Schopf’s Motel, between the Lincoln Highway and Route 30.
A 1996 rezoning in Hellam Township sought to contain future commercial and industrial development near the two Route 30 interchanges.
A Drovers Bank is planned for the northeast corner of the Lincoln Highway and Kreutz Creek Road (one of the interchanges), across the street from the Frosty Freeze drive-in. About 3 miles west of the bridge, Henry’s Seafood completes an addition.
Just past Henry’s, The Workshop Yamaha-Polaris settles into its new snowmobile showroom. Besides lodges, the Lincoln Highway spawned gas stations, restaurants and entertainment venues, Higgins says.
“And then there’s miniature golf, drive-in movies, pools, picnic areas – anything like that that basically you would get in your car and go to.”
About 4 miles west of the bridge, a traveler can lick his hunger and a pumpkin ice cream cone at Jim Mack’s Ice Cream. Jim Mack started the business in 1958; Jim Mack Jr. has operated it since 1983.
Since its beginning, Jim Mack’s has offered ice cream made on site and a menagerie that today includes two black bears, three llamas and two whitetail deer.
Business at Jim Mack’s suffered during the three or four years after the bypass opened, Jim Mack Jr. explains on a later day.
But the pendulum has swung back, and traffic has picked up. “I think there’s people avoiding the bypass,” and the large volume of trucks on it, he says. His own initiatives probably deserve some credit, too.
Since he took over, he says, he has added two arcades, “bank-shot” basketball and a miniature-golf course. Maybe a quarter-mile west of Jim Mack’s, the window air-conditioning units at the Alpine Motel are decorated in foil paper and ribbons to resemble Christmas presents.
Just beyond to the right, Higgins notes Carl’s Car Care, a red-brick house with an overhang that used to be a gas station. A tourist admiring these remnants of the Lincoln Highway soon realizes that most other drivers aren’t interested in sightseeing. Traffic piles up at 35 mph.
“They’re thinking, “Some granny out here,”‘ Higgins quips. The driver pulls over to let the cars and trucks go by. “This is an old gas station,” Higgins says, referring to Springetts Auto Sales on the south side. “This was actually a gas station not that long ago. This was a Sunoco. If you start to learn what these gas stations looked like, you can start to recognize where they were.”
Green street signs in the township still identify this as the Lincoln Highway. Higgins says the name is more common in areas that haven’t been bypassed, such as Chambersburg. The next stop is the closed-for-the-season Frosty Freeze, just south of the Kreutz Creek Road interchange with Route 30.
“It’s a really great sign,” Higgins says, admiring the neon sign topped by an ice cream cone. She’s asked about historic preservation. She says she’s not aware of any major battles to save structures on the Lincoln Highway.
The losses have mounted in recent years: The former Bowman auto dealership, an example of “moderne” design built in 1948, in Springettsbury. Its razing made way for a Taco Bell and a Hot ‘n Now; the latter closed soon after it opened, and its building remains empty.
The York County Shopping Center became York Marketplace in Springettsbury. The project revived a moribund center, but nobody saved the center’s original neon sign.
Last January, workers tore down the old Lincoln Drive-In in Jackson Township (beyond the bypass). Again, apparently no remnants were kept for posterity. The Stony Brook Drive-In, which is in Springettsbury, is closed and for sale, (as is the AMC 4 Theatres next door) its sign and screen awaiting the wrecking ball.
It’s threats to “really unusual” buildings, such as the Shoe House in Hellam Township, that prompt preservationists to action, she suggests.
Well-heeled “Shoe Wizard” Mahlon Haines built a chain of shoe stores; in 1948, he built a giant shoe house between the Lincoln Highway and Route 30. Actually, the Shoe House is visible from Route 30 but not from the Lincoln Highway. Higgins notes that the renewed interest in neon signs sparked the opening of repair shops. That made it easier for the likes of Frosty Freeze and the Modernaire Motel in Springettsbury to have their signs refurbished.
Butko’s book describes how the Modernaire’s owners – Deb and Bob Straw – relinquished their American Automobile Association rating rather than replace their sign.
Deb Straw repeats the story on a recent morning: “The only thing the gentleman (from AAA) said was, “It was outdated and old and you have to get rid of it.’ And I said, “I won’t.”‘ The art deco Modernaire occupies the northeast corner of the Lincoln Highway (here, called East Market Street or Route 462) and Mount Zion Road, as it has since 1949 and through a half-dozen owners.
This morning finds Deb Straw behind the counter; her father, Richard Zimmerman, on the couch watching the “Leeza” talk show on television; and her Rottweilers Rolf and Rebel barking their greetings to a visitor.
The motel’s lobby also serves as the Straws’ living room, its ceiling rising 30 or more feet above. In 1985, the Straws assumed ownership from her parents.
Before the bypass and the growth of chain hotels, salesmen stayed at the Modernaire. That business dried up by 1980. Now, most of the guests are tourists.
“I get a lot of older people who are looking for a clean, economical motel,” Straw says. A single guest can stay one night for $25 plus tax; two people, $30 plus tax. As Zimmerman did when he owned the motel, Straw’s husband works a full-time job: as director of the York County Emergency Management Agency. “This is a family business,” Straw says. “I have a brother who helps with the pool. I have another brother who helps with painting and repair work.”
The Lincoln Highway used to pass through York in both directions along Market Street. Now, two-way traffic ends at Harrison Street – and the Lincoln Highway Garage.
Westbound traffic must use alternate routes, usually Philadelphia Street, until Market becomes a two-way street again near the York Fairgrounds. Higgins lives in West York, where West Market Street is the old Lincoln Highway. She describes a neighborhood where she can walk to a card shop, grocery store, a dry cleaner. A Community Transit bus stops in front of her row house.
“West York still has a real small-town feel, despite the fact that it is literally smack-up against the city,” she says.
She points out the Lincolnway Sportscenter (a former fire station now used for martial arts instruction) and the Lincoln-Way Bowling alley.
“Businesses liked to use the Lincoln Highway as an identification. Because if you said you were going bowling at the Lincoln-Way Bowling center, you knew where that was. I mean, because it’s right on the highway.”
The bypass ends a half-mile before Route 616, where it merges with the Lincoln Highway. Higgins’ tour is nearing an end.
She urges a final stop at the Olympic-sized Lincolnway Pool, which is just off the Lincoln Highway but obscured by the stainless steel Lee’s Diner.
“Not much further,” she says in the last half-mile. Of course, the Lincoln Highway stretches much farther – all the way to California. That’s a thought that still impresses her.