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June 2009

Two of the three earliest automobile trails in the United States had a significant impact on the location of U.S. Route 30 across Indiana, although at different times. Perhaps for the first time in nearly eighty years, a new set of strip maps have been prepared to show the relationship of the Lincoln Highway, the Yellowstone Trail, and U.S. Route 30 across the Hoosier State.

Although the history of the Yellowstone Trail can be traced to 1912, that automobile trail apparently did not reach Indiana and Ohio until 1916. Even then, the route was more on paper than on the ground, drawn as a fanciful smooth line across the tops of both states. By 1920, the middle part of the Yellowstone Trail across Indiana could best be described as a series of stairsteps, with the top of the stairs being at Valparaiso, and the bottom of the stairs being at Fort Wayne. The Automobile Blue Book that was published in that year charts such a stairstep route between those two cities, and a state highway map published in 1923 indicates a short-lived State Route 44 which closely resembles the Blue Book route, almost turn for turn. Nothing even remotely resembling a smooth line could ever be traced through this corridor until U.S. Route 30 had been constructed in its original form some time after 1926, much of it on an entirely new roadbed which abutted the north right-of-way line of the Pennsylvania Railroad.

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Like the Yellowstone Trail, the history of the Lincoln Highway can also be traced to 1912. Unlike the Yellowstone Trail, the original location of the Lincoln Highway across Indiana followed a more definite path--although this path was across the northernmost part of the state, and not yet in the same corridor as the Yellowstone Trail. This first Lincoln Highway route is shown as Main Market Route #2 on a 1917 map that is recognized as the first highway map of Indiana, and connected Valparaiso and Fort Wayne by way of South Bend. It was not until the newly designated U.S. Route 30 was completed in the late 1920s that the Lincoln Highway Association decided to relocate the route through Indiana to follow the federal highway, passing through Plymouth, Warsaw, and Columbia City and shortening the highway by more than twenty miles. Thus, the Hoosier State has two distinct Lincoln Highway alignments, each with its own significant history (it is the 1928 route which would have been marked with the famous concrete posts set by the Boy Scouts). Arguably, a third alignment could also be considered, given that much of the original U.S. Route 30 roadway has long been bypassed in favor of various phases of modern four-lane alternatives.

It is probably safe to assume that with the completion of the original U.S. Route 30 alignment between Valparaiso and Fort Wayne, the Yellowstone Trail was also relocated to match the federal route, and would thus also match the route of the Lincoln Highway. This is the only location in the United States where the two groundbreaking automobile trails would ever have a common corridor, but if this did actually occur, it would have only been for a very brief time in the late 1920s. Sadly, by the end of that decade, the recognition and romance of the named auto trails would be lost with the posting of each new federal shield sign.