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The Lincoln Highway

by Jack Liebman

Editor's Note: The February GuideLines Quiz had a photo of the Lincoln Highway marker in San Francisco. In this article Jack Leibman describes its history.

The Lincoln Highway was conceived in 1912 by Carl Fisher, a visionary who also promoted the Indianapolis Speedway and Miami Beach. As the first transcontinental highway in the United States, it crossed 14 states on its way from Times Square in New York, to Lincoln Park in San Francisco. Lincoln Park was dedicated to President Lincoln in 1909.

The mileage varied over the years as routes changed. Counting all realignments, the grand total was 5,869 miles. The original marker was placed on the north end of the plaza and fountain, across from the future site of the Palace of the Legion of Honor. In 1928, many new markers were installed by thousands of Boy Scouts across the country.

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Today a replica of the marker, placed in 2002 by Boy Scout Troop 17 of San Francisco, stands on the southwest corner of the plaza. The Main Street of the Nation proclaims the sign.

Lieutenant Colonel Eisenhower participated in the Army's first 1919 transcontinental caravan over the Lincoln Highway. The convoy of eighty-one vehicles took sixty-two days to travel from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco, losing nine vehicles on the way, struggling through many accidents, dirt roads, mud, and quicksand. A grandiose plan (unrealized) was proposed in 2001 involving a re-enactment of the historic convoy, and of Lincoln's funeral cortege, all to be filmed by Stephen Spielberg.

In 1925, the Lincoln Highway was broken up into US 1, 30, 40, and 50. In California, the Lincoln Highway followed US 40 over Donner Pass, or US 50 over Echo Summit. Ultimately US 40 led to the East Bay, then by ferry to San Francisco, Market Street to Post, left on Presidio and finally Geary Boulevard to 34th Ave, ending at Lincoln Park.

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But why does a distinctive and mysterious marker, similar to the one at Lincoln Park still stand, next to the bus stop at California Street & Park Presidio, arrow pointing west on California Street? An examination of SF street maps and other regional maps from 1920-60, shows no designation anywhere for the Lincoln Highway, despite its distinguished past as "a local and national highlight of highway history" Moreover, all later maps clearly show the main route from Geary to Lincoln Park via El Camino del Mar until 1959.

El Camino del Mar was envisioned in 1910 as a scenic link between the PPIE and Ocean Beach via the Presidio, Sea Cliff and Lands End. The first part (sometimes named Lincoln or Harding Boulevard) linking the Presidio with Lincoln Park was opened in 1915. The ceremonial opening was held in Lincoln Park, coincident with the completion of the Lincoln Highway. Final completion around Lands End was in 1925. It was closed permanently by landslides in 1957. So the definitive route of the final leg of this historic road remains somewhat unclear.

In response to public interest, the Lincoln Highway Association was reconstituted in 1992 to preserve remaining portions of the Highway and its associated historic sites. In 2003, the Lincoln Highway Association sponsored the 90th anniversary tour of the entire route from Times Square to Lincoln Park. It has over 1100 members with active state chapters in 12 states. The California chapter meets quarterly.