Traveling Back in Time Along the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor
Dec 30, 2014 12:10PM
By Vanessa Orr
The Bedford County Fall Festival features numerous food and drink options.
One of the coolest things about taking a road trip is that often, you don’t have to go very far to find yourself in a completely different place. In some cases, you might even find that the road takes you back to a different time, which is what happens when you travel along the 200-mile Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor, which winds through six Pennsylvania counties from Westmoreland County to Adams County.
Now celebrating its 101st year, the Lincoln Highway was the first coast-to-coast highway ever created—even before the better-known Route 66. The Lincoln Motor Court in Bedford County, built in 1944, is the only motor court still in operation along the highway, and its knotty pine walls, kitschy wall art and tube-operated radios welcome visitors to slow down and wax nostalgic; years ago, it was a welcome sight for travelers who needed to stop to let their radiators and brakes cool down after driving through mountain passes as they explored the new highway.
While today’s drive is much easier thanks to newer technology, many of the original roadside attractions that first welcomed travelers to the highway are still standing along the two-lane road, including a super-sized coffee pot, an art deco gas station, and Grand View Point, where drivers can view three states and seven counties. The best way to figure out the exact route to take (the Lincoln Highway is a ‘braided route’ that often crisscrosses Rt. 30) is to stop first at the Lincoln Highway Experience Museum, located in Latrobe, just past Idlewild Park (the third oldest operating amusement park in the U.S.).
The museum offers a wealth of information as well as a wonderful short documentary film that shows just what it was like to drive the highway back in the 1930s—and trust me, you’ll never complain about a difficult road trip again. Postcards written at the time are displayed, as are a wealth of photos, including reminders of buildings that no longer exist such as the Ship Hotel, which used to host Clara Bow, George Burns, Greta Garbo and Henry Ford before it burned down.
Once you’re on the road, there is no shortage of things to see. The Lincoln Highway takes you through the town of Ligonier in Westmoreland County, where you can park your car for a while and take a tour of Fort Ligonier for the opportunity to travel even further back in history. The town itself is charming, so if you get the opportunity to stay overnight, you should do it—but that’s the subject of a future travel column. Traveling into Somerset County, you can hit a few antique stores, or visit the Green Gables Restaurant and Mountain Playhouse, where summer performances take place in a converted 1805 gristmill and fine dining is offered year-round.
I traveled the Lincoln Highway during October and was lucky enough to visit Bedford County during its fall festival; if you want to see how a small town throws a party, this is a great time of year to go. You absolutely have to stop in Bedford regardless, as it is home to the Bison Corral Farm and Gift Shop, which carries all sorts of unusual items (who knew you could pay such homage to bison?) and boasts its own bison herd roaming the pastures alongside the highway. On the Bedford Fairgrounds, you’ll find the Coffee Pot, established in 1925, which used to serve as a favorite dining spot for travelers. And you can’t miss the giant statute of Little Boy Blue blowing his horn, who originally guarded the entrance to Storyland, a former children’s amusement park. If you love art deco, you have to stop in downtown Bedford to have the attendant at the 1933 Dunkles’ Gulf Service Station pump your gas and clean your windshield.
One less ‘commercial’ stop I would highly recommend is a visit to the Old Log Church and its cemetery, built in 1806; it is a place of great peace, and you can take a minute to reflect while sitting in the original straight-back wooden pews while viewing the wineglass pulpit. I pulled in during a rainstorm and spent a serene half-hour watching the rain through the building’s wavy windows, thinking about how many generations of families had spent similar mornings sharing this same view.
There is so much more to see along the highway—including historic murals, handmade art, fine dining establishments and of course, Mr. Ed’s Elephant Museum—that I can’t cover it all in this space. Please pick up February’s edition of North Hills Monthly to read more about the Lincoln Highway experience as I continue on to Gettysburg.
For more information on any of sites listed here, visit www.LHHC.org or call 724-879-4241. You can also visit:
Bison Corral Farm and Gift Shop: www.visitbedfordcounty.com/bison or 814-733-4908
Lincoln Highway Experience Museum: www.LHHC.org or 724-879-4241
Lincoln Motor Court: www.befordcounty.net/lincoln or call 814-733-2891
Old Log Church: http://oldlogchurch.com/History.shtml
To see a photo gallery, please visit www.northhillsmonthly.com.