Lincoln Highway – Collectible Books, Memorable Journeys

The Lincoln Highway - Coast to Coast from Times Square to the Golden Gate (W.W. Norton, 2007)

We came across this book recently, and it brought back memories of the summer of (2006) when Ron and I decided to follow the “Big L” on a book scouting trip half-way across the country.  The Lincoln Highway, America’s first transcontinental highway, stretches nearly 3,400 miles from New York City to San Francisco.  We covered about 1200 miles of it.  On our trip we hopped on at the eastern border of Ohio, following the “L” signs all the way into Iowa, which is not as easy as you might think.    The route crosses desolate, unpopulated areas, intersecting both sleepy little towns and busy urban areas like Fort Wayne and the edge of Chicago.

The signs are infrequent and small, sometimes just a fading presence on a utility pole, and there are many twists and turns to the route which can get pretty hairy when you are in an urban area like Chicago Heights trying desperately to find an “L” sign.   It’s like following a trail of bread crumbs.  Pretty soon you are seeing the red white and blue L in your dreams at night!

Sometimes we would get lost and stray off the route, only to find ourselves back on it miles later when we’d unexpectedly come across another “L”.   See some history and examples of Lincoln Highway road signs here at the Lincoln Highway National Museum & Archives website.

Our trip commenced during the week of the Annual Lincoln Highway BUY-WAY Yard Sale, when yard sales occur all along the highway.  We thought this would be a boon to a book scouter, but we really didn’t find many books at the yard sales, at least not on our leg of it.  We did find antique shops, junk shops, flea markets and the like…and even some used & rare book shops.  The route goes through Mansfield, Ohio (home of author Louis Bromfield’s Malabar Farm) and Ft. Wayne, Indiana (home of Hyde Brothers Books), which are always enjoyable stops for us.

Collectible books pertaining to the Lincoln Highway

Some interesting travel narratives were written about early journeys on this route, and some of them have become highly collectible books.  Before Emily Post published her famous book on etiquette in 1922, she wrote By Motor to the Golden Gate (1916), a narrative of her cross-country journey on the Lincoln Highway (her son Edwin drove the car).  In 1914, Effie Gladding’s story of a similar trip with her husband was published under the title Across the Continent by the Lincoln Highway.   It Might Have Been Worse, (now there’s an enticing title!) by Beatrice Massey was published in 1919, and in 1927, The Family Flivvers to Frisco by humorist Frederic Van de Water was published.   All four of these books have become scarce and collectible.

If you like Road Trips, especially following a trail that will take you through towns, villages and countryside you otherwise might never visit, and if you enjoy the nostalgia of old diners, motels and forgotten byways, the Lincoln Highway is for you.  Older than Route 66, it was the first transcontinental highway (basically formed by connecting what then existed as east-west roadways across the country and labeling them).  “Seedling miles” were paved here and there “to demonstrate the desirability of this permanent type of road construction” to rally public support for government-backed construction.  Camping equipment, tools, and spare tires were de rigueur on those early trips.

From an August 1985 article by Drake Hokanson appearing in Smithsonian magazine:

“If it had been restlessness and desire for a better way across the continent that brought the Lincoln Highway into existence, it was curiosity that kept it alive—the notion that the point of traveling was not just to cover the distance but to savor the texture of life along the way. Maybe we’ve lost that, but the opportunity to rediscover it is still out there waiting for us anytime we feel like turning off an exit ramp.”

Read more about the history of The Lincoln Highway here.


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