The Lincoln Highway Experience is a museum dedicated to telling the story of the Lincoln Highway, the first transcontinental automobile route linking the east and west coasts of the United States.
History of the Lincoln Highway
The Lincoln Highway was conceived in 1912 by the automotive entrepreneur and racing enthusiast Carl G. Fisher.
Fisher realized that having a system of good roads would be an important factor in the success of the fledgling automobile industry.
At the time, railroads were the chief form of interstate transportation, and Fisher understood that automobile sales would not take off unless people had somewhere to drive them!
So Fisher and a group of friends and investors (including former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, inventor Thomas Edison, and then-current President Woodrow Wilson) set out to raise 10 million dollars to fund the construction of the road, the first section of which was dedicated on December 13, 1913.
The Lincoln Highway ran from Times Square in New York City to Lincoln Park in San Francisco, passing through thirteen states and spanning some 3,389 miles.
In 1928, the highway was redirected through a portion of West Virginia, thereby passing through fourteen states and more than 700 cities.
The Lincoln Highway was America’s first national memorial to President Lincoln, predating the 1922 dedication of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., by nine years.
Fittingly, the Lincoln Highway passes through Gettysburg, PA, site of President Lincoln’s most famous speech.
The Lincoln Highway also brought economic prosperity to the hundreds of cities, towns and villages along the way, and became known as “The Main Street Across America“.
Locating the Lincoln Highway Experience
The Lincoln Highway Experience is itself partially housed in a historic structure, conveniently located right along the Lincoln Highway in Westmoreland County.
The Johnston House (home of the museum) is located at 3435 US-30 East, Latrobe, PA, 15650.
This former stagecoach stop and tavern has stood on this spot for more than 200 years, and along with a newer, attached annex, houses the many artifacts and exhibits that make up the Lincoln Highway Experience.
Touring the Museum
The majority (though not all) of the exhibits at the Lincoln Highway Experience deal with the history of the Pennsylvania portion of the highway.
And what a diverse collection of exhibits it is!
Photographs, videos, petroliana, and antiques of all sorts are just some of the things you’ll see there.
Some of the artifacts are authentically old, others are eclectically modern and part of the efforts to revitalize tourism along the Lincoln Highway.
The Roadside Giants of the Lincoln Highway
One area in particular in which the Lincoln Highway Experience excels is in telling the story of the “roadside giants”.
These eclectic structures were designed to appeal to traveler’s curiosity, and to get them to stop and spend their money in the process.
The Pennsylvania portion of the Lincoln Highway was home to many famous roadside giants, some of which are still standing, other of which have been lost to time.
The S.S. Grand View Ship Hotel
One roadside giant that I remember fondly from my own childhood, but which is no longer in existence, was the S.S. Grand View Ship Hotel in Bedford County.
This ship-shaped hotel and restaurant sat perched on the edge of a mountainside along the Lincoln Highway, overlooking “3 states and 7 counties”.
Sadly, it fell into disuse and disrepair and was destroyed by fire in 2001.
Now all that remains is the parking lot, a bit of the foundation, and the “grand views” that made it famous.
The Lincoln Highway Experience has a great collection of artifacts and souvenirs on display from the heyday of the Ship Hotel.
There’s also a detailed model of what the S.S. Grand View Ship Hotel looked like in all its glory.
Serro’s Diner at the Lincoln Highway Experience
Another excellent “exhibit” is the authentically restored 1938 Serro’s Diner, completely contained inside and under roof in the Lincoln Highway Experience annex.
The attention to detail inside and out is remarkable.
But Serro’s Diner is no mere dusty relic to be looked at – it’s a functional diner with coffee or tea and a slice of pie included in the admission price to the museum.
When my Dad and I visited recently, we both agreed that the pie was some of the best we’d ever eaten!
Final Thoughts on the Lincoln Highway Experience
We Americans love our cars, and we love the freedom of jumping in them and going wherever we want, whenever we want.
But that was simply not possible in the early days of the automobile, and the Lincoln Highway Experience helps you understand and relive what motorists “experienced” in those early days.
Some of Pennsylvania’s most famous historical sites and roadside attractions can be found along the Lincoln Highway, and the Lincoln Highway Experience helps you understand not only how the highway impacted the economic growth of the towns and cities along its route, but also how it changed people’s perception of travel, allowing it to become less of a chore and more of an adventure.
In the age of COVID, I would be remiss if I didn’t encourage you to visit the Lincoln Highway Experience’s official website to check on the lastest hours, potential closing, and admission prices and practices BEFORE making the trip there.
But I wholeheartedly encourage you to visit at some point – it’s a terrific museum and a must-see when passing through the Laurel Highlands!
Fort Ligonier lies along the Lincoln Highway just east of the Lincoln Highway Experience.
Many sections of the Lincoln Highway were built on top of Forbes Road, the military road constructed by the British Army at the same time as Fort Ligonier.
Designed to be Gulf’s showpiece service station between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, the art deco styling of Dunkle’s Gulf Station along the Lincoln Highway in Bedford has been attracting motorists since it first opened in 1933.
The Bedford Coffee Pot is a unique 18 foot-tall “novelty structure” built along the Lincoln Highway in 1927, also in Bedford.
The Grand View Ship Hotel in Bedford County was, in its prime, one of the most famous attractions along the Lincoln Highway.
Tuscarora Summit, now a popular hang glider and parasailing launch, is located along the Lincoln Highway in Fulton County, near McConnellsburg.
The 1806 Old Log Church stands along a portion of the original route of the Lincoln Highway in Bedford County.
The Abandoned PA Turnpike is an obsolete portion of America’s first “superhighway”, now a bike trail with one of its trailheads lying right along the Lincoln Highway.
The Flight 93 National Memorial is located along the Lincoln Highway in Somerset County.
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