Beautification of the Lincoln Highway

BEAUTIFICATION OF THE LINCOLN HIGHWAY
As presented by Esther M. Oyster to the Mid-Ohio Lincoln Highway Association.

From the very beginning of the Lincoln Highway, beautification was an integral part of the planning. The concept for a memorial highway was based on the Apian Way that led to Rome, a road once adorned with beautiful monuments, magnificent temples and large villas with beautiful gardens, and even though the Founding Fathers of the Lincoln Way knew the roadside enhancements would not endure over the centuries, still they wanted their new highway to be unique and beautiful.

Photo used with permission from the Lincoln Highway Collection, Transportation History Collection, Special Collections Library, University of Michigan

Even before the Lincoln Highway, when some of these same men were promoting the Lincoln Memorial Road to run from the White House to Gettysburg, their vision called for a 200-ft. right-of-way with a 40-ft. green sward in the center, which would be a well-kept lawn resembling a beautiful carpet of velvet, interspersed with flower gardens and other decorative features, such as fountains and monuments. On either side of the median would be double-width concrete roadway, both for 2-way traffic, one for swift-moving vehicles-automobiles--, and one for the slower, horse-drawn vehicles. Bordering the road on either side would be stately trees, the rows broken at points to offer views of spectacular scenery.

When the Lincoln Memorial Road did not materialize, the men brought this perspective of beautification to the Lincoln Way, and included it as one of their key points. They continued to promote it over the years, including annual progress reports, and they had special plans for beautifying the Ideal Section in Indiana. Jens Jensen of Chicago, a landscape architect, was a member of the planning committee for the Ideal Section.

Beautification can consist of various elements. Normally we think of landscaping, especially the planting of trees, but it can incorporate elements of the road itself, such as the design of a bridge, or roadside utilitarian services, such as signage, fountains and benches.

Primarily this paper will deal with the landscaping projects that were instigated, and these were carried out in most part by the General Federation of Women's Clubs, which set up a special Conservation & Lincoln Highway Tree Planting committee, with Mrs. E. E. Kendall as chairman. They worked, then, with the local clubs in each community. Of course, some areas had their own natural beauty which didn't need enhancement, such as the mountains of Pennsylvania and at the Nevada-California border in the regions of Lake Tahoe and Donner Pass. Who could improve upon such scenery? As far as unusual roadside architecture, if ever a building called out for restoration, it is Noah's Ark east of Bedford, Pennsylvania. How nice it would be if it were restored to its original configuration as the Ship Hotel!

Referring to the early Bulletins issued weekly by the Association to Officers and Directors, I found these references to beautification:

1914

January 15, New Jersey: Officials of the Newark Motor Club plan to plant trees and shrubbery on Arbor Day along the old Plank Road, now the Lincoln Highway, between Newark and Jersey City.

February 2, Ohio: Professor Lazenby, head of the Ohio Forestry Assn., has been appointed member of a committee to look after the planting of native "Buckeye" trees along the Lincoln Highway in Ohio.

March 2, Illinois: Professor Wilhelm Miller of the University of Illinois will be in Detroit on March 15 and will deliver an address on the general plan to beautify the Lincoln Highway through landscape gardening. (Note: This report has not been located in the archives.)

March 16, Illinois: Charles Gurier of De Kalb has contributed 2,000 6-ft. elm trees to be placed along the Lincoln Way on Arbor Day. The trees are to be planted by school children under the direction of the Women's Club. Each one of the public and parochial schools have an area of the route assigned to them.

May 4, Ohio: The Business Men's Assn. of Lisbon has contributed 25 trees to the Lincoln Highway Assn., and these were planted along the Lincoln Way on Arbor Day.

May 26, Illinois: Mrs. Kendall, chairman of the Conservation & Lincoln Highway Tree Planting Committee, will distribute Lincoln Highway literature to every delegate attending the Biennial Conference in Chicago in June, and she will deliver an educational talk to the estimated 2,500 delegates on the subject of the highway and the plans of the Federation for beautifying it. The General Federation is also interesting the Daughters of the American Revolution, State Granges, Michigan Audubon Society, Women's Rivers & Harbors Congress, State Teachers Associations, and the University of Michigan in the project

1915

April 23, California: The various Women's Clubs of Stockton, in addition to cleaning up and beautifying the city, have arranged to beautify the entrances as well. Vines have been planted so that they will grow over the bridge which crosses the canal, and the banks of the canal have been planted with seeds.

Same date, Illinois: Mooseheart Manager Rodney Brandon is planning on beautifying the Lincoln Highway from Aurora to Batavia with shrubs from the Mooseheart Forestry Department. It is expected that the shrubs will be planted next month.

May 7, Ohio: The first Lincoln Highway tree to be planted in Bucyrus, a fine maple, was planted by a committee of the Women's Club recently. From time to time, additional trees will be planted along the route through the city, in accordance with the plan which is being worked out by the women's clubs all along the Lincoln Highway.

June 12, Pennsylvania: The Chambersburg newspaper, The Register, protested against the painting of advertising signs on barns and fences along the Lincoln Way, as introducing an incongruous note in the beautiful scenery of that region. The paper stated that having the homes, barns and fences painted in lurid colors with advertisements of whiskey and patent medicine is not the best way to make a good impression upon tourists.

Bucyrus, Ohio. Photo used with permission from the Lincoln Highway Collection, Transportation History Collection, Special Collections Library, University of Michigan

Same date, Ohio: On one of the beautiful streets which forms part of the Lincoln Way through Bucyrus, a long flower bed has been planted, and the words "LINCOLN HIGHWAY" formed in brilliant blossoms against a background of green.

Same date, Nebraska: A movement to have boxes of flowers in the windows of Omaha business houses on the Lincoln Way has been started. Omaha wants her Lincoln Way to be a credit to the city.

August 31, California: Trees have been planted along the Lincoln Way between Auburn and Loomis. These trees are placed at intervals of about 50 ft. and will, in the course of time, make this section of the Lincoln Highway one of the most beautiful, as well as one of the most perfect, sections of the transcontinental road. Nothing so pleases the eastern tourist as to drive for miles on an avenue with stately palm trees arching overhead.

1916

April 22, New Jersey: The State Federation of Women's Clubs has a Lincoln Highway Conservation Dept., headed by Mrs. W. M. Wauters, who is especially active, and who has secured the presence of Pres. Wilson and Gov. Fielder in Princeton on April 25th for the planting of a Lincoln Highway tree. The Association was furnishing special gold membership pins for the two dignitaries. The event was to be covered by Pathe Weekly of Jersey City and the Associated Press.

August 26, Pennsylvania: The W. H. Moon Co. of Morrisville, one of the largest landscape gardening and horticultural organizations in the East, advised that they would contribute the labor and sufficient material from their nurseries to plant a mile of Lincoln Highway between Trenton and Morrisville, in accordance with the plan worked out by Prof. Wilhelm Miller, late Professor of Landscape Gardening at the University of Illinois. The goal was to produce a mile of Lincoln Way in eastern Pennsylvania that would embody the ideal plan for the beautification of the entire route.

Researching local Ohio papers produced some additional information.

Ashland paper, April 22, 1914: Mrs. Bessie E. Moore was appointed chairman by Ken Motor Monthly magazine of Cleveland to work with the women's study clubs and other local societies for the beautification of the Lincoln Highway in Ashland County. (Note: This pre-dates the involvement of the General Federation of Women's Clubs by a month or two.) The study clubs promptly formed The Women's Lincoln Highway Association. As plans evolved, they included the planting of trees, the designation of historical places associated with famous people who had lived in the county at one time1, the erection of vine-covered arches at county boundaries, and the erection of two drinking fountains on roadside springs.

In connection with the planting of trees, this little verse appeared with the article:
                    Plant a tree along the roadside,
                    Plant a dozen if you can,
                    For yourself and for your children
                    And your weary fellow-man.

By August they were working in connection with the General Federation of Women's Clubs, and were lining the highway with trees, shrubs and flowers. Quoting the article of August 7, 1914: "Cool bubbling springs are found along the road, and drinking fountains will be placed where the weary traveler can quench his thirst and take away with him pleasant memories of this part of his journey. It is proposed to plant tall shade trees where the road is straight; where it is winding, fruit trees will be used.

"In the spring, transcontinental tourists will be winding through lanes of arching apple blossoms, and in the fall the luscious fruit can be picked without the traveler leaving his machine."

From the Bucyrus Journal of May 6, 1921, there was an follow-up item about the Memorial Elms that had been planted along the Lincoln Way at the end of WW I to commemorate the young men of Crawford County who had been killed in the war. In the current project they were replacing trees that had not done well, and were repainting the name tablets. The trees, spaced 200 ft. apart, had been planted by the Manufacturers Association, under the supervision of Local Consul E. J. Songer.

Beautification is one of the items discussed in the annual Progress Reports issued by the Association.

1914, from THE LINCOLN HIGHWAY TODAY: SUMMARIZING A YEAR'S SUCCESS:

Pg. 9: In many of the towns and cities along the route the authorities or the people have erected arches or welcoming signs at the entrances of the Way into the city. This has been done in Chambersburg, Lancaster and York, Pennsylvania; South Bend, Elkhart and Goshen, Indiana; Ashland, Bucyrus and Canton in Ohio; and Omaha, Nebraska. A large steel arch is in the process of construction at Fort Wayne, Indiana. Others have been proposed.

Pg. 11: The American Institute of Architects, through its President, R. Clipston Sturgis, has offered its cordial cooperation in the preparation of designs for arches, tablets, memorials and bridges to be erected along the Lincoln Way. Their offer of assistance has been accepted as being of inestimable value in teaching the lesson of good taste, and in assuring to the Lincoln Highway the most beautiful work and mature ideas of the leaders of the architectural profession in this country. Through the cooperation of the Institute, wealthy patriots who desire to perpetuate the name of their families or of some loved one, can be sure of the most beautiful and lasting, as well as useful, monument by building on the Lincoln Way a bridge, an arch or a simple memorial tablet.

1915, A RECORD OF CONSISTENT PROGRESS, pg. 10:

California's concrete bridges impressively prove that to be useful, they need not be ugly and distasteful structures. The artistic bridge on the Lincoln Highway leading into Sacramento2 is an instance of this. Here is a Lincoln Highway bridge par-excellence, with the dignity of a public structure. The sweeping curves of its classic lines add to the beauty of the landscape. No tourist enters Sacramento without commenting upon the beauty of this structure, which should be a model for bridges all along the line of the transcontinental road. Unquestionably the future will see every dingy, rusty, criss-cross of structural steel now serving as a bridge replaced with a work of art and beauty, such as this which graces California, and leads the tourists appropriately onto a concrete boulevard between overhanging rows of stately palms.

Mike Buettner was given this poem about the Lincoln Highway which appeared in the 1915 Gomer School (Ohio) Year Book, author unknown; the second verse is especially relevant to the topic:

                    We read in the ancient chronicles
                    Of the Appian Way of old,
                    Built by the Roman Appius,
                    So the historians have told;
                    But a far grander achievement
                    Undertaken by America today
                    Is building from ocean to ocean
                    What is know as the Lincoln Highway.

                    'Tis not built for utility only,
                    But for its beauty as well;
                    Trees planted along its borders,
                    Where the little songsters may dwell.
                    May dwell here and sing unmolested,
                    Nests build and happily stay,
                    For no gun may be fired by a hunter
                    Along the great Lincoln Highway.

                    So when we grow weary of farming,
                    And when we grow weary of chores,
                    We think of the mighty Atlantic,
                    And Pacific's beautiful shores;
                    We'll throw our cares to the east wind,
                    Forget the trials of the day,
                    And with our staff and our knapsack,
                    We'll take to the Lincoln Highway

It has now been 85 years since the beautification of the Lincoln way was undertaken, and, sad to say, most of the trees, beautiful concrete bridges and roadside architectural amenities no longer exist. From the few remaining roadside artifacts, one can envision the Lincoln Way as it originally existed. These items include the seated Lincoln statue in New Jersey; the
magnificent George Westinghouse bridge in Pittsburgh; the old pine trees within the right-of-way in western Crawford County and the last two original brick mile-marker pillars in Ohio; the Harrison Street bridge and the Ostermann Memorial Bench in Indiana; the H. I. Lincoln building in Illinois; the Moss markers and the few remaining Marsh Rainbow bridges in Iowa; the famous LINCOLN HIGHWAY bridges in Tama Iowa and at a rest area in Nevada; the original brick sections in Iowa and Nebraska; the large Lincoln memorial now along I-80 in Wyoming and the beautiful concrete bridge near Donner Lake.

Photo used with permission from the Lincoln Highway Collection, Transportation History Collection, Special Collections Library, University of Michigan

As our highways have become more streamlined with the interstate system, there are no shade trees along the highway where the motorist may stop and rest in cool shade, except for designated rest areas, nor can one reach up and pluck and apple from a tree. I wonder; does the Lincoln Way still run through rows of stately palms in California? I sincerely hope so.



(1) Monuments were erected to Johnny Appleseed in Ashland, and to the Studebaker family at its homestead site five miles east of Ashland. A third one honoring Sen. William B. Allison of Iowa was never erected.

(2) This bridge is pictured in the 1924 Guide, page 506, and appears to be in the style of the Harrison Street bridge in Fort Wayne.