The Lincoln Highway Experience was a most intriguing place to visit to provide an insight to driving history in the US. Located on US Route 30, aptly named the Lincoln Highway, this museum can provide a wealth of ideas for anyone on a road trip across America.
I was revisiting the Latrobe area in western Pennsylvania when curiosity got the better of me. On a daily basis I was passing a historic looking building naming itself the Lincoln Highway Experience.
My curiosity got the better of me and one day I had to venture in to learn more.
My historic journey through time began from the moment I parked up outside the museum located on the east bound section of US Route 30 (of course). There is a blue sign outside the museum providing some insight into the building itself. This is a 200 year old National Register listed structure, which is only the start of my education of the heritage I was to encounter.
I entered the museum building which had lots of black and white pictures on walls in the porch way itself. They immediately caught my attention with an array of sights from times gone by. Thankfully many of this interesting buildings are still in existence today.
A volunteer at the museum greeted me and explained that entry was $5. However this also included a 60 page driving guide to the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor (priced at $2.50).
Intrigued to find out more I happily paid my entrance money.
I was then led into one of the old main rooms of the building which had been made into a cinema style viewing room. Since I was the only visitor at this stage I had my own private showing of a 13 minute film titled “Through The Windshield”.
The film gave the story of how and why the Lincoln Highway was constructed and how it served such a significant role in US transportation history.
What is the Lincoln Highway US Route 30 and why was it built?
The Lincoln Highway was the first east to west, coast to coast highway that was built in the United States of America. Once completed the road was 3,389 miles long.
The trail of the road used through Pennsylvania has links to routes taken by native Americans as well as colonists. Many troops were also present in this area during the French and Indian War, hence proximity to the Forbes Road and Fort Necessity.
In the 19th century many of the major routes through the state were independent turnpikes and had tolls to be paid. Also with the advent of the American railroads long distance travel was much easier by train than by dirt tracks.
In fact many “roads” at this time were more like dirt tracks. They would often become boggy trails after heavy rains and far from ideal for travel. The tracks were used more by cyclists (people on push bikes). The car (automobile) came into prominence in the early 20th century and these roads were far from suited for the car.
So in 1913 a group of businessmen formed the Lincoln Highway Association (LHA) and begun the routing which included linking up existing turnpikes and roads such as the Forbes Road.
Over time funding was obtained for sections of the road and this ultimately transformed the way people travelled.
The road became a lucrative part of commercial life for many. Now people were willing to drive longer and longer distances. Commercial enterprises rose up along the route and towns benefitted from new, passing visitors.
The Lincoln Highway connects many places of interest throughout American history. Now beginning in New York it stretches all the way to San Francisco.
Popular spots along the route in Pennsylvania alone include such as Gettysburg (which I want to visit some day), the Flight 93 Memorial and Ligonier which has a famous fort which I’d recommend visiting. There is also an interestingly named Cashtown – I’ll have to visit one day out of pure curiosity.
The route also created the inspiration for some very interesting buildings along the route. In the past cars weren’t as reliable as they are today so drivers often had to stop. This was either to give the car time to cool down, refuel or just take a break from a slow drive. This led people to be creative in their building designs in the hope of enticing drivers in to spend money.
The Coffee Pot in Bedford
Lying close to the Bedford County Fairgrounds on West Pitt Street is the relocated Coffee Pot. An iconic figure from driving along the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor this creation was first built in 1927. The unusual building appearance attracted people into the coffee shop out of pure novelty if not anything else. It used to work at attracting people too!
However with the passing of time and modern transport routes the business died down. The Coffee Pot in Bedford has been closed for a number of years and was threatened with demolition until it was relocated to this specific site in 2003.
The Shoe House in York, P.A.
In keeping with the quirky architecture along US Route 30 is The Shoe House in York, P.A. Located at 197 Shoe House Rd, York, PA 17406.
Yes the name says it all, this is a house built in the shape of a shoe. Immediately my mind thinks of the nursery rhyme of “There once was an old lady who lived in a shoe…” Well I don’t know if that old lady actually does live there but it is something I’d love to see in the flesh.
Also referred to as The Haines Shoe House after the founder Mahlon Haines who created the structure in 1948. More recently it sold for $160,000 and has been converted into a bakery and diner. It is open Wed – Sat between 11am-7pm and 11am-5pm on Sundays. Sadly it is closed on Monday and Tuesday. It is a seasonal site so expect it to close for winter in mid to late November and open in the spring.
The Ship Hotel aka S.S. Grand View Point Hotel in Bedford
An iconic building and location lay in the Bedford County part of the Lincoln Highway as you drove through the mountains and past stunning scenery. For here stood for many years a hotel designed like a ship. Hence it was named the S.S. Grand View Point Hotel. There is a replica model of the hotel in the Lincoln Highway Experience Museum.
Not only was this a noted landmark for the quirky style building, it also boasted an amazing view of 3 states and 7 counties. What a great place to stop for a coffee! Not only did the hotel have bedrooms available they had a restaurant, lounge and gift shop. Guests of the hotel included J.P. Morgan, Greta Garbo, George Burns and even Henry Ford.
Sadly after more recent and efficient highways were built such as the Pennsylvania Turnpike in the 1940s traffic numbers dropped to the Ship Hotel. It fell from its former glories and changed ownership. Yet the reduced visitor numbers stopped it from being a viable business. Then sadly in October 2001 the Ship Hotel at Bedford burnt down and has never been replaced.
Exhibits at the Lincoln Highway Experience
All these film highlights really roused my interest into what more I could discover about the Highway named after Abraham Lincoln.
Not only were there numerous pictures of this iconic buildings but a heck of a lot more.
Route maps showed key highlights of driving the US Route 30 through PA, plus a smaller scale map showed the coast to coast road map.
Exhibits included a range of petrol pumps (or some might call bowsers) through history. The very basic early versions involved you pumping the petrol (or gas as Americans call it, short for “gasoline”) although petrol was a heck of a lot cheaper then. What would I give for it to be so affordable now.
Another interesting exhibit is titled “License To Drive”.
This shows the development of car number plates through time in Pennsylvania. From their early creation to State and Federal standards as the plate began to include images and the name of the State to which it was registered. You can see the various plates through time and have to turn them over to read a little more about each one.
The Lincoln Highway Supermarket
The historic grounds of the Lincoln Highway Experience are also the home to a recent summer event, the Lincoln Highway Supermarket! This is like a cook out held in the summer months. In 2015 it was held between June to August. With various outdoor picnic tables there is live music and a number of chefs cooking up delightful food. It sounds like a great way to spend a summer’s evening and entry to the museum is free if you pay to enjoy the food.
My trip to the US Route 30 museum in Latrobe ended with the typical museum experience, yes the gift shop! There are a range of memorabilia here plus guides for anyone planning to drive part of the route.
I certainly found that visiting the Lincoln Highway Experience an informative and intriguing experience. I’m interested in performing some US road trips now to see these novelty places. I’ve always wanted to go to Gettysburg, but to see a house built like a shoe and another like a coffee pot will make it even more fun!
The Lincoln Highway Experience Museum is located at 3435 Route 30 East, Latrobe, PA 15650. You can call them on 724-879-4241. Plus their opening times are 9-4pm Mon-Fri all year plus 9-1pm on Saturdays from May until October.