By Gary Herrity
The Clinton Herald
---- — It has been a century since the Lincoln Highway first began to be developed and the Fulton Historical Society is taking the lead in celebrating its 100-year anniversary.
The Lincoln Highway was a historic route to the West for many decades. When Iowa and other states first began their programs to “get out of the mud,” new developments in the use of cement were evolving, and the creation of the first transcontinental automobile highway was conceptualized. It was laid out to cross the north bridge, and one of the routes then came down Second Street and out Fifth Avenue South to several points. Over the years, at least four routes carried the road out to U.S. 30 and points beyond.
Some of its sturdy concrete pavement can still be seen out near the Miracle Mile — by the Little League field behind Farm and Fleet Store. Actually, the old roadbed still exists at several points along the 3,000-mile route. That cement was mixed with much aggregate and possessed a characteristic curbing, slanted for drainage, on both sides. (This curbing would later prove dangerous, as cars began moving faster and faster.)
In 1854, Henry Holland Harding and Sarah Buckmaster married in Cleveland, Ohio, and moved to Lyons, where Henry was a stone mason. He began a general contracting business and built many of the largest buildings in the city. When the Chicago Northwestern decided to forsake Lyons due to high land prices and start the separate city of Clinton, Mr. and Mrs. Harding moved there, too.
They built a brick house at 1006 N. Second St., which Sarah had wished to turn into a home for the aged after their five children were all grown.
Now, what is the connection of Henry Harding to the Lincoln Highway? Well, Mr. Harding may have been the “father of modern concrete”. As a young man, Henry had experimented with sand, gravel and cement until he’d developed good proportions. The product he would call “Freer Stone” was first created in 1875, as he poured his concrete into molds for hitching posts and other things. (Over 50 years later, several examples still existed in this area.)
Henry had many anxious times as he waited for his product to harden and to meet the standards of the area’s then leading citizens. Among them were W.J. Young, Chancy Lamb, W.F. Coan, A.L. Stone, A.G. Smith, P.S. Towle and Major C.H. Toll. The youngest son of Mr. Coan, (also known as “W.F.”) carried on what had been learned, and the first parts of the Lincoln Highway were poured with concrete of similar composition to that first used by H.H. Harding in his construction business.
We are reminded that many elements must come together to form a modern new concept like a Transcontinental Highway. The automobile, commerce, local leaders, concrete, an historic route and much more, all contributed to this new idea.
In early frontier days, the Old Salt Lake Trail was often used by wagon trains, and it became known as the Lincoln Highway in 1908… the very first monument to be named after our 16th President. People going to the 1849 Gold Rush, the Mormon settlement, and the 1860 Pony Express all used this trail.
Carl Fisher presented his ideas in 1912 to a meeting of astonished leaders from the fledging automobile industry. Of the 48 states then, only 28 spent any money at all on roads. However, Clinton County was working on gravel roads, and Supervisor George McClintock (my grandfather) became locally known as the “father of modern roads.” Soon, W.F. Coan espoused Fisher’s ideas as he became a leader in Clinton. There were other leaders all along the route, as well.
The Lincoln Highway Association was formed in 1913 and, despite skepticism, raised $4 million. During the following decade, America would spend $2 billion on highways. By 1916, A.A. Daehler was named a consul responsible for publicity and fundraising, and revenue was raised via $5 radiator emblems.
Construction of the Lincoln Highway began in 1913 with “seedling miles” all along the route, which was formally laid out in 1918.
A car caravan started out in 1913 in Indianapolis to tour the route… which had yet to be paved… and soon realized the enormity of their project. It was exceedingly arduous, even though each mile had been prepared, dragged and graded before them. The group stopped about every 150 miles for banquets and to rest — which wound up being good press and promoted much interest.
Highway markers were developed starting in 1916, and Boy Scouts erected most of the permanent cement ones in September 1928. (One of the last of these stood out on the highway by Calamus.) This marked the official opening of the Lincoln Highway, and most of it was done by the end of the decade.
Although the Lincoln Highway had beautiful markers all along it, its official name was changed to U.S. 30. It was the preeminent highway of the country until 1965, when the interstate system became America’s thoroughfare.
The slower-paced Lincoln Highway had gone through every town in the country, but the new interstate went through none. And while the popularity and purpose of U.S. 30 has ebbed, time may yet tell a different tale… as the old road is being rejuvenated, and the need for an alternate route is becoming evident.
Sources Clinton County Historical Society Museum archives; "The Merry War" newspaper of Friday, March 25, 1927; archives of the Clinton Herald; R & R Farms, at the Unicorn… former home of Henry Harding and wife Sarah; Tony Vorsten of Highway 30 Association's Annual Meeting, in 1974; Barbara Mask (of Fulton Historical Society) and her Oct. 4 article in the Clinton Herald,.