Illinois Scenic Drives: Lincoln Highway


This map will guide you along Lincoln Highway in Illinois.

This historic byway follows the original alignment of the Lincoln Highway, the first paved transcontinental highway in the United States. The 179-mile route crosses the width of northern Illinois, starting in Lynwood on the Indiana border.

The route ends in Fulton at the Iowa border. The Illinois portion of the highway, located near the center of the 3,389-mile transcontinental route, was the site of the first seedling mile of paved roadway constructed to demonstrate the superiority of pavement over dirt roads. The Lincoln Highway was also the first instance in which directional signs and urban bypasses were used.

Cultural Qualities of Lincoln Highway

The culture of the Lincoln Highway centers around its communities, which share a pride in being part of the history and future of transportation. In most of the Lincoln Highway communities, you find at least one defining characteristic. In Dixon, it is the Victory Arch that spans the highway; in Chicago Heights, it is the Arche Fountain commemorating Abraham Lincoln; in Batavia, it is the unique architecture.

Historical Qualities of Lincoln Highway

In 1912, a core group of automobile industrialists and enthusiasts established an organization to promote the development of "good roads" and conceived a route for a paved, transcontinental road. This group sought to secure private funding to build a road that would serve the needs of industry, particularly the automobile industry. The first seedling mile was completed in Malta, Illinois, just west of DeKalb, in October 1914. Four more seedling miles were constructed in 1915. The stark contrast between these smooth patches of pavement and the bumpy or muddy roads leading up to them created a groundswell of public opinion in favor of good roads.

This clamor for action was directed at local, state, and federal officials and resulted in the passage of the Federal Aid Road Act of 1916, which authorized and appropriated 75 million dollars for the construction of what were called post roads. This amount was to be matched by the states seeking to build the roads, thus starting the practice of federal-state grant matching for road construction. Many segments were constructed by volunteer labor, such as the Mooseheart segment, which was built by area businesspeople, manual laborers, and others to demonstrate their support of their community and of local businesses.

Shortly thereafter, America became involved in World War I, shifting national attention onto the war effort and away from the road-building effort. However, interest in good roads resumed in earnest shortly after the war ended in November 1918. In 1919, Lincoln Highway Association leader Harry Ostermann persuaded the War Department to conduct a transcontinental motor convoy trip from the East Coast to San Francisco on the marked route of the Lincoln Highway.

A 69-vehicle convoy combining public and private vehicles took off from the White House on July 7, 1919. The convoy, primarily following the Lincoln Highway route, finally arrived in San Francisco, but not after considerable difficulty on the dirt roads traveled en route. The seedling miles of concrete made a strong impression. Among those participating in the convoy was Lt. Colonel Dwight D. Eisenhower, who much later applied his experiences on the Lincoln Highway, along with his experiences with World War II and the German Autobahn system, to conceive of an interstate road system to aid the movement of troops, goods, and people across the country.

Various aspects of the Lincoln Highway's early development predated and predicted some of the technical and fundamental elements of current U.S. transportation policy. They included directional signage, a system of concrete markers designed to assist travelers determining their location along a given roadway. Never before had a consistent road signage system been employed. Another new concept was the urban bypass: The Lincoln Highway was purposely routed 25-30 miles south and west of Chicago to avoid congestion and time delays.

Since 1935, much of the original Lincoln Highway has been paved over, bypassed, or converted to numbered U.S., state, and county highways or municipal streets. Very few of the 1928 cement markers still exist. However, the name Lincoln is still attached to much of the route in the form of roadway and street names, local Lincoln businesses and brochures, articles, and artifacts preserved in museums and historical societies along the route.

Recreational Qualities of Lincoln Highway

From the rolling hills of western Illinois and the Mississippi River Valley to the sights and sounds of the Chicago metropolitan area, the Lincoln Highway includes an impressive collection of diverse recreational opportunities. Near Franklin Grove, stop at Franklin Creek State Natural Area to enjoy a picnic by the edge of Franklin Creek.

Hiking, skiing, horseback riding, and snowmobiling trails are available there. As you near Chicago, you'll find increased shopping opportunities in places such as Chicago Heights and Joliet. In Geneva, tour the Japanese Gardens or go biking on the Riverwalk. While touring each community, you are sure to come across several enticing activities.

Find more useful information related to Lincoln Highway in Illinois:

  • Illinois Scenic Drives: Lincoln Highway is just one of the scenic byways in Illinois. Check out the others.
  • Joliet, DeKalb, Dixon: Find out what there is to do in these cities along Lincoln Highway.
  • Scenic Drives: Are you interested in scenic drives beyond Illinois? Here are more than 100 scenic drives throughout the United States.
  • How to Drive Economically: Fuel economy is a major concern when you're on a driving trip. Learn how to get better gas mileage.