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Lincoln Highway: Pennsylvania November 21, 2011

Posted by Jenny in history, travel.
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The Coffee Pot Restaurant in Bedford, PA

In this series of posts, we journey on the Lincoln Highway from New York City to San Francisco, taking it state by state. Go here for an introduction.

On my road trip in August, I traveled a short distance on the Lincoln Highway when I drove west from Gettysburg. I crossed the dramatic Tuscarora Summit and departed the famous highway when I turned south on US 522 at McConnellsburg. At a stop later that day at the visitor center at Sidelong Hill in western Maryland, I learned just enough about US 30—the Lincoln Highway—to whet my curiosity.

I’m glad that my experience with the Lincoln Highway began in the Gettysburg/Chambersburg area, with its deep, momentous Civil War associations. In the following I’ll touch on a few points of interest across Pennsylvania, but I can’t come close to a detailed description of the highway in this state. Take the selection below as one person’s idiosyncratic view of a vast subject.

Our last visit to the Highway saw us departing New Jersey on the “Trenton Makes” bridge over the Delaware to arrive at Morrisville, PA. The route of the Highway was adjusted many times between 1913 and 1930, but the final alignment had it going along US 1 to Philadelphia. The entire Lincoln Highway in Pennsylvania had been designated PA Route 1 in 1924; two years later, the route from West Virginia to Philadelphia became US 30 and the stretch from there to New Jersey became US 1.

In its present incarnation, the Lincoln Highway through Philadelphia is a complicated, high-speed journey using interstates and expressways. Things were different in the early days.

Broad St. & Northeast Blvd., Philadelphia, 1920

Breaking free of Philly, the Highway travels through Exton, where the boarded-up Williams Deluxe Cabins speak of the end of an era. My family  stayed in cabins like this when I was growing up. As a child, I felt there was something wonderful about having an individual miniature home instead of a unit glued together with many others. It was like having a cupcake instead of a piece of cake.

Williams Deluxe Cabins, Exton

The Highway passes through Downington, where one can see the Log House on Brandywine Creek. It was built around 1701. The white paint makes it look like a ghost of its former self.

Log House, Downington

The Highway continues into Lancaster County—Amish country. There one can see two worlds in collision.

Amish buggy on modern road

On my road trip, I found myself in a line of traffic behind a Mennonite buggy in West Tennessee (on US 64 east of Savannah). I wondered how it feels to be in that buggy with automobiles racing past whenever they have a chance to get by. I suppose the occupants get used to it after a while.

The Highway crosses the mighty Susquehanna at Columbia and passes the Shoe House in Hellam.

Shoe House

Starting in the 1920s and continuing for several decades, there was a craze for oversized buildings in the shape of everyday objects. Many have disappeared or fallen into disrepair, but the Shoe House has been lovingly maintained. Built by “Colonel” Mahlon N. Haines in 1948, it is 48 feet long and 25 feet high. Haines, the “Shoe Wizard of York,” was renowned for his dominance in shoe sales throughout central Pennsylvania. The antics of today’s used car dealers pale by comparison with his advertising gimmicks.

When he first built the Shoe House, he invited elderly couples to stay for a free weekend that included the services of a cook and chauffeur—a great publicity stunt. Later, honeymooners from any town with a Haines shoe store were invited to stay. Haines believed that as long as he could attract plenty of attention, people would buy his shoes.

The Highway passes through York and reaches Gettysburg. Could one find any greater contrast than between the Shoe House and the famous battlefield? And yet, oddly enough, a theme of shoes continues, as we will see.

US 30 passes through the center of the town of Gettysburg and follows the route of the Chambersburg Turnpike, the scene of the first action of the battle, July 1, 1863. The Confederates were approaching from Chambersburg, and Union forces arranged themselves in defensive positions along ridges west of town. The day before, Maj. Gen. Henry Heth of the Confederates had sent men under Brig. Gen. J. Johnston Pettigrew toward the town to look for supplies—especially shoes.

Pettigrew spotted Union cavalry under Brig. Gen. John Buford and turned back to report this to Heth. However, Heth insisted on believing these were only Pennsylvania militia, not a substantial Union force. Early on the morning of the 1st, Heth’s division advanced in columns. Three miles west of town, at 7:30 a.m., Heth’s forward brigades made contact with Union troops. According to legend, Union soldier Lt. Marcellus Jones was the first to fire a shot. All the shooting would end with a Union victory July 3 at a cost of 50,000 casualties between the armies.

"First Shot" marker

Twenty-five miles to the west of Gettysburg, the Lincoln Highway passes through Chambersburg, which was invaded several times by Confederate forces during the war. In the third and last invasion, July 1864, troops under Brig. Gen. John McCausland burned down a large portion of the town for failing to provide a ransom of $500,000 in US currency. Union men soon made “Remember Chambersburg” a battle cry.

Fountain in Memorial Square, Chambersburg

We leave Civil War landmarks behind as we travel west of Chambersburg.  Near St. Thomas, the Highway passes a historic tollhouse from the old Chambersburg-Bedford Turnpike. It dates to the early 19th century.

Toll house, Chambersburg-Bedford Pike

The Highway makes a steep, winding climb over the Tuscarora Summit, elev. 2240′. Early travelers were advised to make sure their automobiles were in good condition, “especially the brakes.” For an excellent compilation of period postcards with commentary, visit this site, which covers the Lincoln Highway both east and west of this lofty point. The Tuscarora name came from a people who migrated to this area from North Carolina following wars of the early 18th century.

Portraits of Tuscarora people

The Tuscarora belong to the Iroquoian-language group. They now inhabit mainly upstate New York, Ontario, and eastern North Carolina, but only the tribes in the first two areas are recognized by their respective national governments.

The Highway around Bedford boasts several points of interest. They include the Coffee Pot Restaurant (see photo at top), built in 1927 by Bert Koontz to attract visitors to his nearby gas station. It served ice cream, hamburgers, and Coca-Cola, and became a regular stop for Greyhound bus passengers. It was moved to its present location and restored by the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor in 2004.

Formerly near Bedford, but destroyed by fire in 2001, was the Grand View Point Hotel. It was built in 1932.

Grand View Point Hotel, in Bedford County

Still standing at 6048 Lincoln Highway is Bonnet’s Tavern, built in 1762.

Bonnet Tavern in Bedford

With apologies to readers in western Pennsylvania, we now pick up considerable speed as we cross a region that has no towns of any size until the greater Pittsburgh area. After crossing PA 160, it is possible to make a short side trip to the south to visit a temporary memorial to the victims of the United Flight 93 plane crash from 9/11. (The crash site itself, located nearby, is closed to all except families of the victims.) The crash occurred just west of Indian Lake and north of Shanksville.

Temporary memorial for those who died in the Flight 93 plane crash. Funding is still being raised for a permanent memorial.

Near Ligonier, we pass the Compass Inn Museum, located in a historic stagecoach stop built in 1799.

This is all coal mining country from Somerset County onward, but Pennsylvania has fallen far in production from earlier days. It now accounts for just five percent of national output, behind Wyoming, Montana, West Virginia, and Kentucky. Many of the Pennsylvania bituminous mines (as opposed to anthracite in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area) fed the steel mills of Pittsburgh. And at last we approach that city and cross it on the Penn-Lincoln Parkway. US 30 joins I-376, then the four-lane US 22, before it recovers its identity near the town of Imperial. There we will angle northwest in our next post to make a very brief visit to West Virginia.

Pittsburgh skyline

Road trip: Gettysburg August 16, 2011

Posted by Jenny in Civil War, history, travel.
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Reenactors of the 124th New York regiment

To listen to these men of the 124th New York, you might think they would have to be about 175 years old. They always speak of their regiment in the first person plural: “We faced the 1st Texas at Devil’s Den,” or “Our colonel and lieutenant colonel were both killed.” It was striking to me how powerfully the history of this place tugs people in the present year back to three days in July 1863.

More men fell in this battle—51,000 killed—than in any battle before or since in North America. It represented General Lee’s determined and desperate attempt to make a significant advance into Union territory. Lee failed and withdrew after three days of fighting that culminated in the lethal Confederate infantry advance known as Pickett’s Charge.

I had been at Gettysburg with my family when I was growing up, but I didn’t remember it well. The main thing I recalled was the cyclorama, and I was happy to see that the cyclorama still exists. I started my exploration with the visitor’s center. I saw a familiar figure seated in front of the door.

A familiar figure holds his text of the Gettysburg Address

As I passed this figure, something happened that also occurred when I first arrived at the other two battlefields I visited, Fort Donelson and Shiloh: tears filled my eyes. What a sentimental person I am! And how hard it is to explain why these places are so important to me.

After viewing a film that explained basic facts about the battle, our group of visitors went upstairs to experience the cyclorama. We stood in the darkened circle and listened to the sounds of artillery and riflefire booming from all directions. The canvas was created in 1884 by Paul Philippoteaux, a Frenchman who had made a specialty of the cyclorama form, the 19th-century equivalent to an IMAX theater. In the foreground stood actual three-dimensional artifacts of the battle. The purplish photo below was taken during the performance (very dark, as no flash was allowed).

We are there watching Pickett's Charge: rocks and rifles in the foreground, painting in the background

Philippoteaux actually painted four versions of the scene, all under contract with American businessmen. The first was exhibited in Chicago, went missing for quite a while, and was rediscovered in 1965 and purchased by a group of North Carolina investors. It is the second version that I saw at Gettysburg sometime in the 60s and again on this trip. It was removed for restoration work in 2005 (quite a task, as the thing weighs several tons) and returned to the new visitor’s center in 2008. The third version is known to have been destroyed, and the status of the fourth is unknown.

Advertisement for Boston exhibition of the cyclorama that now appears at Gettysburg. "Expect to see the grandest sight of this age."

I next spent quite a long time going through the museum, which covers the whole Civil War in chronological sequence: quite ambitious, but surprisingly successful.

Union cavalryman (exhibit in museum)

Then it was time to visit the battlefield. I did not go through the main auto tour sites in the sequence shown in the brochure; I zigged and zagged according to whim. I went across Washington Street from the visitor’s center and confronted the extremely large Pennsylvania Memorial. The overcast sky seemed brooding to me and appropriate in mood.

Pennsylvania Memorial

Soon I noticed an encampment of reenactors nearby. I went around taking pictures and talking to the members of the 124th New York. They explained that they come every year the first weekend in August. Their regiment is known as the “Orange Blossoms,” since many of them came from Orange County, NY. Some young fellows attached to the regiment were playing a primitive version of baseball with a large red ball. I understand there is a lot of controversy about the origin of the game, so I won’t get into a discussion about Abner Doubleday and Cooperstown.

Reenactor tents

Stacked rifles

Reenactor with pipe

The fellow below next to the campfire spent a long time with me explaining the sequence of the 124th’s involvement in the battle. They were situated on a low ridge adjacent to Little Round Top on July 2 and suffered 40% casualties in their engagement with the 1st Texas and a Georgia regiment that came behind the Texans.

Reenactor at campfire

I appreciated his time and his dedication to the subject.

I drove on through this peculiar landscape with all kinds of monuments residing among the fields and the woods. Many different concepts of the Civil War soldier or of honoring the dead exist in close proximity to each other. The only thing that all have in common is that they are all more or less representational—no “crazy modern abstract” sculptures.

The Minnesota infantryman is shown in the midst of urgent action

General Meade, appointed by Lincoln just a week earlier as commander of the Army of the Potomac, looks suitably large and impressive. He performed well at Gettysburg but came under criticism for failing to pursue Lee aggressively after the battle. In 1864 and 1865, his fate was to report to Ulysses S. Grant, and he consequently had little opportunity to exercise leadership.

George Gordon Meade, Union commander

Sometimes things seemed incongruously juxtaposed, as if each were frozen at a different moment without a connection between them.

Cannons in foreground, soldier with raised rifle in background, both frozen in a state of timelessness

This monument offered an important word.

An important word

I noticed that one monument in this part of the battlefield had small Confederate flags in front of it, while the other ones around it were all devoted to Union forces. The words seemed obliterated, but a knowledgeable person explained to me that this was a monument to General Lewis A. Armistead, who on July 3 led five Virginia regiments across the open fields into the Angle and across Federal lines, experiencing severe losses. Armistead was seriously wounded, and he died two days later. His men were the only ones to penetrate the Federal center.

Stars and Bars

I next visited the Soldier’s National Cemetery.

Silence and respect

Like many old cemeteries, this one featured some beautiful large trees. Very appropriately, a big buckeye leaned over a monument to Ohio artillerymen.


I spotted an absolutely gigantic gingko.

I hadn't ever seen such a large gingko

Fragments of verse were posted on signs around the cemetery. It was not poetry of deep intellectual value—just some simple rhymes to convey a sense of loss.

Last tattoo

This pair of figures had interesting stains on their faces and bodies. The one on the left might be Peace or Justice or Honor—who knows—and I have no idea what the right one represents. Since he has what looks like a gear at his feet, maybe he is Industry.They make a rather odd couple.

The odd couple

Since I now reside in North Carolina, I need to include an image of the main NC memorial.

North Carolina memorial

And so I continued through the parts of the battlefield. I made the short climb up to the summit of Big Round Top, connected by a ridge to Little Round Top, where Colonel Joshua Chamberlain and the 20th Maine made their famous defense of the Federal position and charged down the hillside.

Then it was on to beautiful Frostburg, Maryland. I would be doing some highpointing the next day.

To see all of the posts about my August 2011 road trip, type road trip: (with the colon after “trip”) in the search box at right and scroll down.

Monument to Chamberlain