Historic highway hits 100th birthday

The Lincoln Highway, which most recognize as Route 206, is a collection of road that stretches from New York to San Fransicso and goes right past Rider’s front gate. It’s 100th birthday will be on October 31.

By Jenni Chiarello

The Route 206 experience varies for most students. Some use it only for the 0.7 mile stretch from the interstate to the entrance of the school. Others venture further and explore the local pizza and bagel shops or various shopping establishments.
However, every Rider student has used Route 206, and therefore the Lincoln Highway. whether he or she knows it or not. The Lincoln Highway is a series of roads stretching from San Francisco to New York, the most prominent for Rider students being Route 206.
This year, the Lincoln Highway celebrates its 100th birthday. The plans for a massive set of roads to connect the nation were conceived in 1912 by Carl G. Fisher, the same man who also created the Indianapolis Speedway. On Oct. 31, 1913, Fisher’s plans were brought to fruition, and the road was officially dedicated.
According to the Lincoln Highway Association’s website, the original route of the Lincoln Highway consisted of 3,389 miles of road. However, over time, the route has been modified, improved and realigned. Now, it consists of 3,142 miles.
Upon its completion in 1913, the highway was dedicated to President Abraham Lincoln.
Dennis Waters, Lawrence Township historian, explained the difference between the highway on the East Coast versus the West Coast.
“In the eastern part of the U.S., like here in New Jersey, the Lincoln Highway went over roads that already existed,” Waters said. “As you head west, the Lincoln Highway became like a dirt road in places where there really were no roads. A lot of places in the Midwest actually built roads to be part of the Lincoln Highway.”
For its time, the Lincoln Highway was a novel idea, according to Waters. A road that stretched from one end of the country to the other was almost unfathomable to most. The country had almost no system in place for highway building or improving.
According to Waters, Fisher conceived an idea and brought the design to life. The highway united the country, and started turning the wheels for a much-needed system in the United States for building and maintaining major highways and roads.
“The Lincoln Highway was a starting point for creating a national highway system,” Waters said. “Prior to the Lincoln Highway, the idea that the federal government should be involved with funding roads and organizing a national roads system — nobody had ever thought of that before, and so the Lincoln Highway got the ball rolling on that. That’s really the basis for the transportation system that we have today.”
In addition to making a national contribution, the Lincoln Highway has contributed locally to Lawrence Township. Because Route 206 was meant to be part of the Lincoln Highway, it was decided that it would be paved in 1923. Thus, Lawrenceville had a main paved road. Because of its location, having a main paved road immensely benefited the town.
“It really solidified the route that we call 206 — the main highway connecting New York and Philadelphia,” Waters said. “Route 206 turned out to be the first road that was paved in this area. That took place in the 1920s, and it was only because it was part of this highway.”
For many years, the Lincoln Highway was the most direct route from one end of the country to the other, and it flourished. However, in the 1950s, large sections of the highway fell into disuse, according to Waters.
“They built the interstate systems in the 1950s and 1960s, and so parts of the Lincoln Highway aren’t really used that much anymore because people use the interstates,” he said.
Students underestimate the importance of the constant use of the Lincoln Highway.
“I never knew that Route 206 was so signifcant,” said senior sociology major Alexis Bowan. “I literally use that road every day. I think it’s important that we learn about this kind of history especially since it is so close to home.”

 

Printed in the 10/16/13 edition.

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