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Lincoln Highway: Indiana January 15, 2012

Posted by Jenny in history, travel.
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Henry C. Ostermann used a Packard Twin Six as the pilot car for the 1919 Motor Transport Convoy. His model was white, as opposed to the two-tone colors of this beautifully restored edition.

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.

Indiana’s most notable contribution to the Lincoln Highway may well be the “Ideal Section” of highway located near Dyer in the northwest corner of the state. The Ideal Section carried US Route 30 traffic until 1997, when it was obliterated by a widening project. However, alongside the former road section still stands a memorial to Henry C. Ostermann, avid promoter of the Highway.

In the early years of Lincoln Highway construction, “seedling miles” were built as examples of how a highway should be designed and to stimulate further construction. In 1920, Austin Bemment of the Lincoln Highway Association set about organizing funding and construction of the ultimate seedling mile, the Ideal Section.

Funded by the United States Rubber Company as well as local, state, and federal governments, the 1.3-mile Ideal Section had four 10-foot lanes of steel-reinforced concrete, making it one of the first four-lane highways in the nation. The four-lane concept was a remote ancestor of present-day versions, however, as it had no median and no shoulders. But the Ideal Section boasted overhead lighting—so that cars “need not use headlamps”—at least for that one mile! The four lanes tapered to two at each end, places where unfortunately quite a few accidents occurred in the merging process.

Sadly, highway promoter and LHA field secretary Ostermann was killed in a car accident in Iowa the same year that work on the Ideal Section began. The LHA commissioned landscape architect Jens Jensen to design a memorial to Ostermann as well as other features along the Section. Jensen, known for his work in the Chicago park system, also drew designs for an Ideal Campsite and an Ideal Filling Station—a limestone structure that housed gas station, store, and rest rooms. (The campsite and filling station were never actually built.) Promoters envisioned the Ideal Section as spurring growth of other Ideal features in the vicinity, such as beautiful country homes and a golf course.

Brevet Lt. Col. Dwight D. Eisenhower (R) participated in the 1919 convoy, guided by Ostermann

The year before he died, Ostermann had played a key role in the 1919 Motor Transport Corps convoy. Having driven across the nation 19 times, he was literally the only one who knew the way across what was then still a patchwork of roads that ranged from concrete to mud. The convoy started in Washington, DC, but joined the Lincoln Highway route in Pennsylvania. In his white Packard Twin Six, Ostermann drove two to ten days ahead of the main convoy. (I plan to devote a separate blog post to this convoy.)

The route of the Lincoln Highway across Indiana changed significantly in 1928. Before that time, the highway followed the route of the New York Central Railroad through populated regions of northern Indiana, taking it through Elkhart and South Bend along what is now US Route 33. The more direct route westward from Fort Wayne along the route of the Pittsburgh, Ft. Wayne & Chicago Railroad traversed a rural area that featured virtually no automobile traffic. It wasn’t until 1928 that the highway took that more direct route along what became US 30, in the process knocking 20 miles off the state-wide distance.

Because the earlier, more northerly route went through the more populated area of the state, most of the major points of interest are found there rather than along the post-1928 route. In the following, I share a few pictures of points and related historical images along the way.

For travelers coming from Ohio on Route 30, Fort Wayne is the gateway to Indiana. The fort was founded by “Mad Anthony Wayne,” the active and aggressive Revolutionary War commander who served in many locales, most notably at Stony Point on the Hudson in 1779, where he personally led a bayonet attack by night on a British stronghold. His connection with the Indiana locale came after the war in 1794, when under his direction the U.S. Army built Fort Wayne as one of a series of constructions near villages of the Miami Indians.

"Mad Anthony" Wayne

Continuing northwest of Fort Wayne, an original brick section of the Lincoln Highway has been preserved near Ligonier.

Brick section near Ligonier on Old Route 33

Ligonier also boasts a handsome town clock.

Ligonier town clock

The Elkhart County Courthouse is one of many admirable examples of courthouse architecture along the Highway.

Elkhart County Courthouse in Goshen

Goshen is famous for a pair of tornadoes that destroyed a trailer park and a housing development in nearby Dunlap on April 11, 1965. Numerous other tornadoes struck Elkhart County that day, including other parts of Goshen.

The twin funnels must have been a terrifying sight.

Moving west to South Bend, any aficionado of highway and automobile history would surely want to visit the Studebaker Museum. Its exhibits include not only many Studebaker car models but vehicles produced for military purposes as well as wagons and carriages of historic interest.

Studebaker Sceptre concept car, produced in the 1960s

In La Porte County, we pass another attractive courthouse. I can’t help but wonder if there was friendly competition between these Indiana counties to build the most impressive structure!

La Porte County Courthouse

As we approach the Illinois border, we come to the town of Dyer, the location of the former Ideal Section and the Henry Ostermann Memorial Bench, which can be found adjoining a monument to the Sauk Trail.

A pleasant place to exit the Lincoln Highway's Indiana segment.