Historic highway

Jeremy Frank ’09

On a campus full of historical sites, one of the easiest to take for granted is the road that leads to it. First Street passes in front of the Hilltop, winds its way through downtown Mount Vernon, continues eastward after reaching the cemetery, and passes through Lisbon. It is part of the original Lincoln Highway, which not only connected Cornellians with their school and local hangouts, but also connected millions of Americans on what was the nation’s first transcontinental highway.

For decades this was also U.S. Highway 30 until a bypass was constructed to connect Lisbon and Mount Vernon on the south edges of the respective communities. The original section is sometimes referred to by locals as “Old 30.”

Imagined by Carl Fisher in 1912, the Lincoln Highway would be the first major road in America with the luxury of being covered in concrete. Fisher kept the route secret for several years, fearing people would end up supporting the individual states it went through rather than the entire highway.

When it was dedicated on Oct. 31, 1913, the Lincoln Highway became the first national memorial to President Abraham Lincoln. The highway would also go on to provide a huge economic boom for the over 500 cities and towns and 14 states that it would pass through on its route from Times Square in New York City to Lincoln Park in San Francisco, covering more than 3,400 miles.

Lisbon was as excited as any town when it learned that the first great highway would pass down its main street. On Oct. 2, 1913, the Lisbon Herald reprinted the good news that had run in the Mount Vernon Record a few days earlier. It quoted the press release of the Lincoln Highway Association almost verbatim, announcing that half the money to start the project had already been raised.

However, the town must have had a short memory. On Jan. 1, 1914, under the headline What 1913 Brought, mention was made of the Panama Canal, some steamship disasters, the presidential inauguration, labor disputes, problems with Mexico, and lots of railroad news. Oddly, no mention of the Lincoln Highway was made.