A Ride along the Lincoln Highway

Known as Route 30 in Pennsylvania, a trip along the Lincoln Highway can be just as meaningful as the journey’s destination.


Andrew McLaughlin

The Lincoln Highway crosses through the town square of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Andrew McLaughlin, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Driving on the Pennsylvania Turnpike can be a mindless experience. But while you slice through the Allegheny Mountains at 70 miles per hour, you may occasionally catch a glimpse of a nearby road that contours to the land, winding its way through the trees. Along this road less traveled, there are still many red, white, and blue signs sporting its more than century-old name: the Lincoln Highway.

The Lincoln Highway was the first marked transcontinental road in the United States when it opened in 1913. Long before the Turnpike, it was the main artery across Pennsylvania, but at one time, it was also the paramount road across the entire nation. Starting in Times Square and running through thirteen states to San Francisco, the Lincoln Highway is an older, longer counterpart to Route 66, yet it is just as scenic and full of interesting sights as that more well-known road.

The Lincoln Highway sometimes diverges from Route 30 for a few miles. The original alignment from 1913 is on the left, and modern Route 30 is on the right.

Of the nearly 300 miles of Lincoln Highway in Pennsylvania, it typically coincides with US Route 30, but the two designations are not the same. In some places, Route 30 has been enlarged to a six-lane, divided highway, but the old two-lane alignment of the Lincoln remains on the side, threading its way through residential areas.

To gain a taste of the Lincoln Highway, we will travel east from Pittsburgh, through the mountains to Bedford. Once past Ligonier, this stretch of the highway retains much of its old-time flavor from the mid-20th-century golden age of the American road trip.

A concrete marker placed by the Boy Scouts of America in 1928 sits along Ligonier’s Main Street. (Andrew McLaughlin)

Nearing Ligonier, the road splits to separate east and westbound lanes on either side of the Loyalhanna Creek. This part of the journey is the first clue that the Lincoln Highway is taking you to a place far from the hustle and bustle of commercialized America. Drivers pass through a tree-blanketed valley with a rushing creek nestled in the middle, passing Idlewild Park and coming upon the town of Ligonier.

Ligonier is rich in history, home to Fort Ligonier and the eastern terminus of Forbes Road, both important parts of the French and Indian War. Featuring a quaint town square with a picturesque gazebo, the town has been featured in several Hallmark movies. 

Idlewild Park opened in 1878 and is one of two amusement parks along the Lincoln Highway in Pennsylvania. (Andrew McLaughlin)

East of Ligonier, the Lincoln passes through several small towns, most of which are unknown: Laughlintown, Jennerstown, Stoystown. However, one previously unknown town gained worldwide attention on September 11, 2001, when the crash landing of United Airlines Flight 93 made Shanksville, Pennsylvania world-famous. In addition to a memorial at the crash site, the Flight 93 National Memorial is home to a museum and a Tower of Voices filled with windchimes in honor of the victims’ lives.

As the Lincoln Highway twists and turns through the mountains, it passes several stunning lookouts, including one where a notable hotel and restaurant once stood. The S.S. Grand View Ship Hotel burned in 2001, but its foundation remains at a curve of the road which still gives a fantastic view, one which was advertised as affording a view of three states and seven counties from a single lookout.

As the Lincoln Highway crosses the Allegheny Mountains, it affords grand views of the western Pennsylvania landscape. (Andrew McLaughlin)

After emerging from the precarious mountain pass, the gaudy Breezewood commercial strip is somewhat shocking. Perhaps the most-traveled section of the Lincoln Highway, thousands of drivers use this block-long stretch to reach Interstate 70 from the Turnpike. 

Breezewood’s makeshift collection of gas stations and fast food joints can be overbearing, but just a short drive back westward is a bustling Main Street that is still very much alive. Bedford, PA is small-town America at its finest; fronted by a courthouse and church, it has war memorials dating back to the Civil War on four corners.

Located in Bedford, Dunkle’s Gulf looks like it belongs in a museum, but this fantastic example of art-deco design still functions as a gas station and mechanic shop, just as it has for the past 90 years. (Andrew McLaughlin)

Just outside of Bedford is an unassuming group of cabins with a name that speaks of another time: the Lincoln Motor Court. Dating from before the time of motels, the Lincoln Motor Court is from an era when travelers would rent out individual cabins to stay the night on a roadtrip. Hundreds of these cabin courts once dotted the country, but today, the Lincoln Motor Court is the last of its kind. Operated by the same couple for the past three decades, it now has a new owner who hopes to preserve the court’s period feeling. The cabins have no air conditioning or television; instead, visitors often meet around the fire pit or play corn hole after a day of travel.

Along its more than 3000-mile, transcontinental route, the Lincoln Highway is filled with family businesses–some are deteriorating, but many are thriving. Though more than eight decades old, the Lincoln Motor Court is one such prosperous business. (Andrew McLaughlin)

The Lincoln Highway is filled with echoes of the past, a rare example of how laid-back America used to be. In a world focused on using every minute to its fullest, a slow-paced road trip can be a welcome breath of fresh air. While much of its traffic has been lost to time, the Lincoln Highway remains as a link to an earlier time. It continues into the far west and passes through nine more states, but there is no shortage of fascinating history to discover along its route in western Pennsylvania. It may take some extra time to uncover it, but traveling the backroads is always worthwhile for what one discovers along the way.